Alan Kirker

Consume

May 31st, 2022 by

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone” (Henry David Thoreau, 1854).

Author Anders Hayden notes the recent historical shift from society’s economic growth for the acquisition of essential goods and services, towards one of an obsession with income and material consumption:

“Consumerism has continued to thrive largely due to the increasing symbolic importance of goods. It is no longer so much a question of what goods do, but what they say. Products no longer primarily serve the struggle for survival, but increasingly the struggle for experience and the expression of personal identity” (1999, p. 96).

In her book, “Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have” (2019), author Tatiana Schlossberg sees this expression in the production of expensive “athleisure” garments for outdoor-minded people, some of whose manufacture has even included making fleece from new plastic bottles purchased solely so the textiles can be called “recycled”. “Now, that plastic is getting back into the environment in the form of micro-plastic fibers” (2019, p. 147). Schlossberg suggests similarly that the production of cheaply manufactured clothes or “fast fashion” is anything but environmentally-friendly:

“When we’re buying fast fashion (which we don’t have to), we actually have to buy more, because the clothes aren’t made well. They’re made cheaply and quickly, so they don’t last as long. We get rid of about 60 percent of the clothing we buy within a year of its being made; we used to keep our clothing at least twice as long” (2019, p. 152).

What are the environmental implications of such low-cost approaches? “Half of the growth in emissions in China since 1990 comes from the offshoring and globalization of manufacturing industries… Effectively, we’ve outsourced our emissions to China’s factories, patting ourselves on the back as they become the world’s biggest emitter” (2019, p. 212).

Beneath our throw-away culture is the broader notion of “planned obsolescence”, that “death dating” products, and cheap manufacturing generally, drives consumption and perpetuates production. Does this not speak to a certain fragile economic foundation that also does the environment no good service? Are quality goods that last now a thing of the past?

In the case of hardware and electronic products, some manufacturers have begun subscribing to the “Right to Repair” movement, where consumers and independent repair shops are granted access to tools, manuals, software, and services necessary to repair and prolong product life. In a hopeful gesture, “starting this year, Apple will let customers access parts, tools, and manuals to make common repairs to the iPhone 12 and 13, including to the battery, camera, and screen” (March 2022, p. 47).

Climate scientist Michael Mann states further, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. Alone it won’t solve this problem. But drawing upon it we will” (2021, p. 267).


Dickinson, E. E. (March 2022), Your Own Devices: The Right to Repair Movement Gains Ground (Annotation), in Harper’s Magazine (pp. 46 – 47), New York, United States: Harper’s Magazine Foundation [PDF document]. Retrieved May 2022 from https://harpers.org/archive/2022/03/your-own-devices-right-to-repair-movement-ifixit/

Hayden, A. (1999) Sharing the Work, Sparing the Planet: Work Time, Consumption, and Ecology. Toronto, Canada: Between the Lines

Mann, M. (2021) The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back the Planet. New York, United States: PublicAffairs – Hachette Book Group

Schlossberg, T. (2019) Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have. New York, United States: Grand Central Publishing – Hachette Book Group

Thoreau, H. D. (1854) Walden, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” [HTML document]. Retrieved June 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/205/205-h/205-h.htm#chap03

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