Follow Jessica on Twitter @CrossAndLeaves or follow the Five Leaf Eco-Awards @fiveleafeco

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My laptop woes and the origin of consumerism and waste

My laptop has been slowly dying for the last month, so eventually I finally got around to taking it to be repaired. We eventually worked out that I needed a replacement part. The problem is, HP no longer stocks this part. Also, even if they did, it would probably make more sense for me, economically, to just buy a new laptop.

As an environmentalist though, I have qualms about adding to the tonnes of E-waste thrown away each year. I am left with little choice though, because things are simply not made to last anymore.

There is a good reason for that. After World War II, the American economy was booming; but they faced a dilemma. They had all these factories employing people and making things, but they no longer needed the products. If they simply went back to business as usual before the war, the economy would plummit. So they did some thinking and realised something. If you sell someone an appliance for $1,000 and it lasts for twenty years, then your total income from that customer is $1,000 per 20 years. But if you sell them the same product at the same price and it only lasts for two years, then you can sell 10 of that product to the same customer in the 20 years and make $10,000. This example is, of course, overly simplified. Once consumers realised the reduced value of the product they would want to pay less, and externalities such as the environmental costs of being so wasteful , the costs to consumers of having to waste more time shopping, and the emotional costs of having your appliances break when you need them. However, it is perfectly standard for these factors to be ignored by economic models, so it seemed like a brilliant idea. Consumerism was born.

Next, they began making products so cheap that it made no financial sense to repair the old, and people began simply buying new things everytime something broke - and throwing out the old. This ability to buy everything you need and the absence of a need to repair anything then contributed to the loss of skills among the population. People stopped learning how to sew and cook, or fix the car. They could simply pay someone else to do it. Or, in the case of sewing, they would probably just buy new clothes. By this point, everyone was really enjoying this incredible miracle called economic growth. But it was still limited by the fact that people only need so many things. So they found a way past that barrier.

They began using marketing to create desires in people for things they didn't really need. They began to blur the line between needs and wants, so that some kids today find it almost impossible to tell the difference. They created ideas like fashion, which make it necessary to constantly buy new things. Don't get me wrong, I am a girl, and I enjoy fashion, but think about what it makes us do... I remember as a teenager, I would feel compelled at the start of each year to buy a whole new wardrobe of clothes, because I didn't want to be seen wearing last year's clothes (luckily, until year 10 I was at a school with a uniform, so this was only really an issue for my last two years of high school). Also, I remember the fear I had of wearing the same clothes twice in one week, let alone two days in a row. It wasn't about whether the clothes were clean or not it 'just isn't done!'

How did the marketers manage to create such fear in me? This is actually interesting to look at from a Christian perspective... Think about the main tools that marketers use to sell us things; they use envy and coveteousness, they tell you that you aren't good enough without their products, and they use sex. They use all of these, also, to create peer pressure. These are not very Christian motivations are they? Covetting the goods of another is against the tenth commandment. Our value is to come from the fact God loves us, not our possessions or looks. We are supposed to be of pure minds, free from lust; and we are to be in the world but not of the world - peer pressure should have no effect on us. And yet, even as Christians, how often do we fall for these things? I wanted fashionable clothing as a teenager because I wanted to fit in, I wanted to be good enough to be loved, and I saw my clothing as reflecting on my value. I think there is also an undercurrent hidden in the whole fashion thing. They say it is about expressing who you are, etc, etc, but it's not really. It is about emulating others. And I think it is about having money, or at least pretending you do. I mean, keeping up with the latest fashions is not cheap. The more money you have, the more closely you will be able to emulate the 'standards'. Poor families simply cannot buy dozens of new, expensive items of clothing every season. But they do try and keep up - where I grew up, it was the poor people who wore the T-shirts with the largest brands on them. They might not have been able to afford as many clothes, but those they did have were from expensive and famous brands, displayed as obviously as possible. In our society, it is cool to be rich, and cool to show that wealth with the latest fashions. I wonder what Jesus would have said about that....

So now we have this consumeristic society, set up in order to create limitless growth for economy. If we stop spending enough, the entire thing grinds to a halt and there is panic. But when are we going to face the impacts of what we are doing on the planet? When are we going to realise that limitless growth is impossible on a planet with finite resources? Growth for growth's sake is the philosophy of a virus. And, like a virus, we are slowly killing our host. If we are going to survive, consumerism may have to go. But do we have the strength to fight something designed to give us our every desire? Can our faith give us the strength to make the necessary sacrifices because it's the right thing to do?
I suppose the future will tell.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+