The Consumer Price Index, consumer affairs, consumer credit, consumer confidence, consumer services, consumer guides, Consumer Reports, consumer news, consumer advocates, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, consumer complaints, consumer privacy, consumer rights, consumer care, consumer this, consumer that. The entire world economy is now fired by one thing—rampant consumption. It turns out that everyone from the Chinese to aboriginal Amazonian Indians love consumer goods of all sorts.
Of course food is itself consumer goods now, classed with other non-durable goods or fast moving goods. Then there is what we hilariously call “durable goods,” those consumer goods intended to last more than three years.
“Consumerism” is the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable. In the short term it is, assuming that we all agree on exactly what is economically desirable. And we pretty much do all agree on that. Across the political spectrum everyone seems to be entirely invested in the idea of increasing job growth in order to increase the ability to consume. Or is it the other way around?
For once we are not engaging some euphemism in order to obfuscate exactly what we are talking about. We are indeed using derivations of the word “consume” according to its dictionary definition.
To do away with completely; to spend wastefully; to use up; to eat or drink esp. in great quantity; to utilize economic goods.
We all seem quite comfortable with that, quite comfortable with that even as we inhabit a planet with resources that we know are obviously limited, obviously finite. Human beings in previous eras could be forgiven for believing that the planet on which they lived was infinite. There is no excuse for the human race’s failure to grasp the implications of the finitude of the planet now. And yet, I have come to agree with the radical environmentalist who said that the one iron rule is this. People will keep doing exactly what they are doing until they cannot.
I am acutely aware of my own hypocrisy as I write this. I have been right in there, a high end consumer my entire life. Which is exactly why I am convinced that we are a species out of control. Human beings have now become an infestation of this planet. Nothing can be done about this. Nothing. Sooner or later—probably sooner–something has to give. But it will not be the planet. The planet will not give. The planet will right itself.
Bill McKibben and others battle on valiantly in the face of this hopeless situation. The difference between them and me is that they care about the survival of their own species a helluva lot more than I do.