Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Cherry-picking morality in consumerism

Protecting the environment means examining our own behaviour as consumers and where our decisions lie on the spectrum of necessity.

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Reading a news report about how a retail chain in the UK is now banning the sale of glitter before this Christmas tipped me over the edge.

We can’t use glitter on our Christmas decorations, we can’t have microbeads in our facial cleansers, we can’t use plastic straws, because all these will harm the environment in one way or another.

Are we forgetting that innovation has allowed us these conveniences?

Yes, protect the environment, but it will take much more than focusing on micro-aspects such as straws, microbeads and glitter.

Protecting the environment through the lens of consumer demand is a narrow view.

Activism means cutting off the head of the snake – government policy, political will, complete stakeholder commitment.

And frankly, we consumers should take some responsibility, too, because our bottomless desire to consume goods is also part of the problem.

If we didn’t want to consume so much by buying all this transient stuff, perhaps we wouldn’t be in the dire situation we are in now.

Do you actually remember the satisfaction you got from the last facial exfoliation or the purple glitter on last year’s Christmas tree?

No, because that gratification was momentary.

It was for that moment, and then you began to worry how long your in-laws were staying after dinner.

We demonise the straw while ignoring the plastic wrap on the frozen chicken and beef. We demonise plastic shopping bags at the supermarket but develop blindness to the plastic wrapping on dinky, disposable items at the DIY store.

And we feel so utterly smug about ourselves for carrying those woven nylon bags for our shopping but ignore the fact that the manufacturing processes that produced our beloved cars and houses all contributed to smoggy skies and polluted waterways.

It seems we like to cherry-pick our moral outrage.

Yet, we do not like examining our cavalier consumption, our “throw-away” culture (“My laptop is two years old, it’s slow, I’m throwing it away and getting a new one”) and, most, importantly, our unchecked desire to buy all things new and shiny.

Perhaps it’s time we curbed our desire to have things even if we don’t need them. Yes, the car is old, but it runs. You have a fatter paycheck and you don’t want to look like a loser among your friends with their Hondas and Beemers, so you chuck the chuggy old Volvo and splash out on a sleek new SUV.

Do you have any idea the carbon footprint of the factory process that made every single part of that car, from the gearstick to the buttons on your in-car stereo?

No. You just cruise along, smug in the feeling that you are no longer embarrassed by your old – but functioning – car.

Yes, buying that car means someone in the automotive industry got paid this month, but we cannot get angry at the failure of nations to stop filling the skies with choking smog and stinking up our rivers and seas with industrial waste when we buy something with our hard-earned dollars but do not care beyond that to hold corporations and governments accountable for the spillover effects of our unchecked consumerism.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.

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