Conspicuous consumption

Tom Moritz tmoritz at CAS.CALACADEMY.ORG
Thu Mar 30 10:58:34 CST 1995

Realizing we're a bit far afield here (for TAXACOM) -- nevertheless...

On Thu, 30 Mar 1995, Alvin Hutchinson wrote:

> My feeling is that the recreational use of automobiles is one of our
> biggest sins. Aside from the petroleum burned unnecessarily there are

Yes.  But not just "recreational use"...

It's interesting how much more comfortable North Americans are in
advocating population controls -- for ourselves or others -- than we are
in making *any* significant changes in our consumptive habits.  The idea
that the "good life" is somehow bound up with being able to consume
whatever we want (or are told we should want) whenever we want it, is
infantile and pathological.

Yet the intransigence of our consumer habits is almost overwhelming -- I
personally have been struggling to walk, use a bicycle or use mass transit for
most purposes here in San Francisco for several months & it's not easy
-- yet using two tons of automobile and hundreds of gallons of fuel to
move one person around is not justifiable -- I believe most thinking people
*know* this but simply DO NOT (CAN NOT?) CHANGE...

The relative "weight" of a single North American (as opposed to, say, a
Bangladeshi) in terms of resource use is HUGE.  Caring for the Earth
(published in 1991 by IUCN, UNEP & WWF) notes that the US.'s per capita
annual energy consumption is 280  gigajoules (gigajoule= 10 to the ninth
joules)  Bangladesh's  is 2 gigajoules).  Another small example
which I saw cited recently -- per capita consumption of paper in the US is
681 pounds per year.  (The "Summary" of Caring for the Earth is 24 pages
long and is an excellent presentation of "sustainable development"...)

I visited Pakistan and Nepal last October for 22 days -- working with
conservation groups there.  The consequences of the US consumptive model
being adopted in those countries is appalling.  Karachi *may* have as many
as 12 million people and picks up about 50% of its solid waste
("disposable" packaging etc. etc.).  The rest accumulates -- I have
pictures.  Most of the time, the city smells as if it is on fire -- an
electrical fire, at that...  Watching green turtles haul out to lay eggs
on the beaches of Karachi, with packs of feral dogs waiting to eat the
hatchlings, moved me to tears.

Karachi & Kathmandu are being suffocated by internal combustion engines --
without benefit of the inadequate controls being used in the US.

So?  Change begins at home -- simplifying how we live IS the "good life"
because it creates the possibility of sustaining the natural world as we
know it (AND of our survival and our children's survival).  The economy
*will* adjust to changes in consumptive habits.

Park it.  Use metabolic energy.  (Even once or twice a week will help.)  Eat
low on the food chain, eat less, vote with your dollars by buying (or
at least asking for) organic foods.  ETC. ETC. ETC.

Tom Moritz
Library/Biodiversity Resource Center
California Academy of Sciences
San Francisco

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