Stop shopping ... or the planet will go pop
Sunday April 8, 2007
'Many big ideas have struggled over the centuries to dominate the planet,' begins the argument by Jonathon Porritt, government adviser and all-round environmental guru.
'Fascism. Communism. Democracy. Religion. But only one has achieved total supremacy. Its compulsive attractions rob its followers of reason and good sense. It has created unsustainable inequalities and threatened to tear apart the very fabric of our society. More powerful than any cause or even religion, it has reached into every corner of the globe.
It is consumerism.'
According to Porritt, the most senior adviser to the government on sustainability, we have become a generation of shopaholics. We are bombarded by advertising from every medium which persuades us that the more we consume, the better our lives will be. Shopping is equated with fun, fulfilment and self-identity. It is also, Porritt warns, killing the planet. He argues, in an interview with The Observer, that merely switching to 'ethical' shopping is not enough.
We must shop less. (clip)
Porritt, chairman of the government's Sustainable Development Commission, has concluded that consumerism is central to the threat facing the planet, cannibalising its natural resources and producing the carbon dioxide emissions which result in climate change.
'I think capitalism is patently unable to go on growing the size of the consumer economy for any more people in the world today because levels of consumption are already undermining life support systems on which we depend - so if we do it for any more people, the planet will go pop,' Porritt told The Observer.
'So in a way we don't have a choice about this: we've got to rethink the basic premise behind capitalism to make it deliver the goods. In the long run, when you really look at what happens on a planet with nine billion people and really serious constraints on the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that we can emit, it's almost inevitable we will learn to have more elegant, satisfying lives, consuming less.
I can't see any way out of that in the long run.'
He denies that he is advocating a return to the austerity and rationing last seen during and just after the Second World War, although he describes low air fares as 'ludicrous' and warns a sacrifice will have to be made to reduce carbon emissions. 'I know for sure that if we ever had a golden age, as far as most people are concerned, it's been over the last 50 years. That's the period of the greatest prosperity for the greatest number of people, so I don't have any nostalgia for past eras where life was simpler but more primitive.
I don't talk about going back to anything, I talk about using technology a great deal more intelligently and efficiently to continue to give us a very high quality of life with a fraction of the environmental cost.
His sentiments were echoed by the conservation group Friends of the Earth. Tony Juniper, its director, said: 'Our consumer culture is completely out of the step with the capacity of the planet. If we're going to have a world that is in a fit state to live in by the end of the century, we're going to have to drastically reduce the amount of material demand.
Now, I'm not suggesting that you go and join Froogles.
But, if we are going to deal successfully with the challenges
found in a carbon constrained world,
and in a carbon changed world,
We will have to examine ourselves and our culture fearlessly.
Not tomorrow, not next week, not next year, even next decade,
but sooner than you might imagine,
We will wake up to the sillyness of this cockeyed consumer con,
and we will turn the tables.
And the hegemony of the Corporation over the Consumer,
will give way to a world of Multinational Cooperations
And we will become the hegemony.
And the hue and cry of their CEO's as they take their pay cuts
will be drowned out by the laughter of small children,
and the good humor of the old ones,
and by some shoppers sipping lattes on the corner .