Opinion

Environmental ‘tips’ are of little use

To achieve real change, we must abandon our culture of consumerism

Everyone knows something about the environmental troubles we have put ourselves in and we’ve all heard several “helpful” tips, like walking to work or turning the light off when you leave the room to save gas or energy. The rhetoric and the apathy in Congress make it seem like we just need a quick fix, like cars with better gas mileage. But if you look at the numbers, we need much more than that.

Let’s see where this comes from. Global warming, for example, is caused by burning too many fossil fuels, which we use every day to make our lives possible. But it wouldn’t be a problem if there weren’t seven billion people on this planet. Most of these people live at an unsustainable rate, in a culture of consumerism that values throwing away over fixing. But none of these issues are the real root of the problem. The reason we are in such a mess is our insatiable need for economic growth.

I know how crazy and hippie I sound, but this isn’t being spoken about at all. We learn that economic growth is important, perhaps the most important thing in the world. This makes sense, because economic growth means continued ability to live our current lives. But our current lives are not sustainable. We cannot continue to burn fossil fuels, to destroy wilderness and overstuff landfills if we still want to be a species in 500 years.

Pure Adam Smith capitalism relies on an unlimited supply of resources and doesn’t take into account the environment at all. I know we don’t employ pure capitalism, but our model still needs many more resources than we have, and the environment isn’t nearly as protected as it needs to be.

We have designed a society that gives our species the maximum comfort. None of the major problems our ancestors had to deal with are problems for us anymore. We don’t have to worry about predators or not being able to find any food in the forest. You could argue that we have evolved into this comfort, that our society is a product of natural selection that allows for billions of large mammals to survive past the Earth’s carrying capacity. But at what cost? Is evolution going to betray us in the end and lead us into extinction? Or are we going to somehow find a way to survive as a species? If we do, it’s not going to be the same way we live now. It will be unrecognizable, probably with a drastic reduction in population, and small living communities; technology will be mainly used to provide a sustainable food and energy source.

You have probably heard your local uninformed hippie talking about how our consumer culture is ruining the Earth. They are partially correct, but it’s so much deeper than that. It’s human nature; it could even be the nature of every species (if given the chance). No one is talking about this because it is so unpopular. What if a congressperson started talking about how instead of getting his or her constituents jobs, he or she was trying to quell the growth of the local economy? He or she would get kicked out of office immediately. How long is this going to go on being undiscussed? Probably forever. My descendants are most likely screwed. But at least I’ll have fun sitting in my warm house watching my big-screen TV.

Views expressed in the opinion pages represent the opinions of the columnists.