December 11, 2009

Are Conspicuous Consumers The Next Smokers?

At one time an individual's choice to smoke in public was based on purely personal considerations. Either you felt like having a smoke or not. Not so much any more. Taking into consideration the greater effects of public smoking, many jurisdictions have created laws restricting it. Attitudes are changing, and it is considered socially unacceptable to light up indiscriminately in public. Is conspicuous consumption next on the list?

The unintended effects of one billion people consuming 35 times more everything than the rest of the planet are monumental. We are living in the second hand smoke of our smoldering scorched earth lifestyles. We are destroying everything the enemy can use, and the enemy seems to be the very planet itself.

Not only do we see that there ARE limits to what nature can provide us, but we are nearing some of those limits. We are witnessing the limits of atmosphere and ocean, forest and farmland, flora and fauna. On a finite planet with an ever-increasing population, I can only see this going one way, and it is not a vision of excess.

There are current examples of consumption laws. Some are health related such as restrictions on consuming cigarettes in public, while others deal with resource depletion such as rationing water in a drought. My own community has water rationing every summer during the dry season and it is the main limiting factor in the development of this area.

Fines are associated with breaking consumption laws, and when we opt to hit people in the pocketbook you know we mean business. Society reminds us in this way that our decisions are no longer bound by purely personal whims, and the greater good will be preserved. Such "extreme measures" become ingrained in our lives and before long we adapt, and perhaps even wonder how things could have been the way they were previously. It is what happens when you choose to live with less - you wonder what all that stuff you used to have was for. You don't miss it. You welcome the empty space it has left behind.

According to the law of diminishing utility increasing consumption does not translate into increased happiness past a certain critical point. It is possible that the less we consume, the happier we will become. Will we need further laws to help us overcome the initial fear as we move toward a sustainable existence?

Our current high-consumption lifestyle is leading to obesity, chronic stress, climate change, and a widening gap between rich and poor. Are we going to limit our own self-destructive behaviour, or will we need to be dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing? It's not just personal anymore. We all share the same planet.


  1. I'm voting the majority will require the kicking and screaming method... but I'm a cynic.

    Sustainability and anticonsumerism aren't in the majority's business interests. Thus, very few will promote them since keeping numbers in the black is the number one goal.

    Additionally, our culture doesn't actively promote prevention. We seem to prefer to let it fester, play the blame game, and pay out the wazoo to fix it at the last minute.

  2. Matt SF,

    I try to be hopeful, but you are right to say that prevention is not our preferred method of tackling issues. Just look at modern western health care. Light on nutrition, heavy on treatment of the effects of bad diets. It may not be in big business's interest to put limits on consumption, but big business will be going through some radical changes, and soon. Will we be proactive and courageous? Perhaps visiting this site can be seen as proactive and courageous, for mainstream it is not. Thank you for visiting, and for commenting.


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