Tuesday 1 March 2011

Thoughts about Consumption

Yesterday I posted a review of The End of Oil by Paul Roberts, which outlines how we are effectively running out of oil. Towards the end of my review I talked about some future approaches that I felt were missing from the book. One of these was addressing consumption and I suggested that we need to look at ways of reducing consumption that don't destroy our quality of life.

I just thought it might then be worth thinking a little bit about how this can be done. Firstly we need to be clear that there is a difference between quality of life and standard of living. There are many ways of reducing consumption that effectively reduce our standard of living as it is defined by society in general that don't decrease our quality of life.

For example, some ways in which I consume less than many people: not having a car; not taking holidays abroad; not working full time; not having a widescreen tv and huge music centre; not buying new clothes every season. I accept that many people will consider me therefore to have a lower standard of living, but I don't for a minute think it means I have a lower quality of life!

We don't need loads of stuff to have a good quality of life!

As Rabbits' Guy pointed out in the comments yesterday, efficiency and energy conservation have important roles to play in helping the oil we do have last for longer, enabling us to transition to a future less dependent on oil and stuff.

And as bunnygirl said, although we all need to do what we can, politicians and companies have much more of a role to play than they seem to accept.

If we can all reduce our consumption then we can help to secure a sustainable future. Otherwise we may find ourselves in a situation where run-away climate change and associated disasters force us into a poorer quality of life.


Ann (bunnygirl) said...

You're right that reducing consumption doesn't have to mean reducing quality of life.

Like you, my husband and I don't take trips abroad. It's amazing what you can find right in your own country. I've seen things that most people don't even know are here. We camp a lot when we travel, and it's not a hardship. What can be more stunning than a beautiful place seen by the light of all the stars in the galaxy?

I buy most of my clothes at thrift and consignment shops and get far better quality than I could afford if I bought new. It's amazing what gets donated to some of these places - brand new designer items in current styles, sometimes with the tags still on.

I cook most of my own meals and have better quality than if I bought preservative-laden processed stuff. With only a few simple appliances (rice cooker, bread maker, slow cooker) you can make fabulous meals with very little effort.

Much of my furniture is stuff that I bought from friends or got for free, including a very nice sofa set that was nearly new when the previous owners inherited some family furniture they couldn't refuse. They sold their sofa set to us for $800 but paid about twice that much for it.

My husband got his first satellite radio from a guy who had bought a new one and was giving the old one away. My BlackBerry was a hand-me-down from my husband, as were all my previous cell phones. I won my iPod in a giveaway.

My husband offered to buy me an iPad for my birthday, but I'm no fool. With patience, I'll either win one or get someone else's when they upgrade. :-)

d. moll, l.ac. said...

Having moved recently I've had the opportunity to ruminate on the nature of stuff. Millions of years ago having stuff, like skins and spears, could mean the difference between life and death. Certain things had mystical and spiritual connections. Stuff was power and prestige. It's hard to pull out the ancient mind set; maybe it's a ingrained in our DNA.

Titus said...

Yes, and of course, but there is that terrible way our developed world is so geared to making us want to consume - via every single media availiable. And not, primarily, for our benefit, but to make the giant corporations make more money. We are truly a global economy, and it is not the nation-state or the UN or any other geo-political association that is the agent for change - it is business, and the business of making money.
How much did we love Gaddafi and his oil until about 4 weeks ago?
We are not a world of ethics right now, but a world of profits. And everything in society seems to be geared to making us buy, to make someone profits. I admire all individuals for making their stand, but what's needed is a sea-change I don't hold out a lot of hope for.
OK, that's my rant over!

Crafty Green Poet said...

bunnygirl - that's an impressive list! Thanks for sharing!

Titus - we can choose to reduce our consumption of the media (buying fewer magazines, watching less tv) and we can cultivate cynicism of the media. Though admittedly the media is saturated...

d.moll = yes similar to our tastes for salt and fat, which were rare in the environments of our primitive ancestors, so they had a well developed taste for them, which we still have even though now there's fat and salt everywhere

Anonymous said...

I go at it from another angle, Juliet. I make my clothes, bake my bread, and grow my garden. It is not a hardship but a choice of things I enjoy doing, and also feel good about.

Mark said...

One reason we're having a long trip away now is to reduce flights (last time I flew was 2003!). And after this one I don't plan to fly again for a while!


Christina said...

Politicians care for their own pocketbooks.

People just have to be aware a little more that the earth does not belong to them. That when you take you must replace and only take what you must. We belong to the earth, not the other way around.

I do a lot of shopping at the thrift store too! I find all my bunny blankets there and all my scrubs for work.

RG said...

I am enjoying the "conversations" ...

Clearly "we" here in the US have been consuming less for awhile now and thus sending less sales and business tax money to our governments which in turn are cutting services causing us all to gnash our teeth! (But I think we all suspect that will change and we'll be happily consuming away again soon!)

Seems like recycling and reuse have grown in popularity and "easiness", both of which allow continued consumption with less use of resources; as does the notion of sustainability.

I know most people get a new cell-phone (or whatever that is now called!) quite frequently (yearly or so?) I wonder if that is causing a severe drain on resources. Anyone know?

And finally another question. More and more I see these small square "icons" made of arrangements of little symbols - for example, they are on interpretive signs along a trail near here. Some people can "scan" them with their "cellphone" and up pops a webpage on the little screen with all sorts of neat info. about that area, including updates to what is on the sign. Have to have the newest phone to do that. Does that feature add to quality of life? Essential quality of life?

JoMo said...

When you said this:

We don't need loads of stuff to have a good quality of life!

I cheered, YES!

Materialism & consumerist culture is an unending circle of empty joy.

You make some great points. As do all the commentors.

Michelle May-The Raspberry Rabbits said...

Life is so much better and so much easier with less stuff. Took me a long time to understand this. Also took me losing a fulltime job to truly get it. Never been happier. We have one TV. My clothes are simple. We don't eat out. I do have a car because I live too far from things that I need to drive. There are still many things I'm working on though. I truly love handmade things and am filling my house with things that are treasures.
xx, shell

Forthvalley scribe said...

Yes, that's absolutely what I meant - but it requires a radical change in the way we think - and yes, industry and politics most of all.

Crafty Green Poet said...

sandy I made some of my own clothes but was so hopeless at it that I'd rather buy second hand!

Mark - yes good idea to combine your long trips

Christina - yes and we're only borrowign the earth from our children and grandchildren

Rabbits Guy - not everyone is consuming less, but there are pockets of people reducing their consumption in several countries. cell phones and other gadgets are a big drain on resources specially as we are encouraged to buy the latest model every year. I've never had a cell phone. Even our computer is pretty much the one we've had for well over a decade.

JoMo - exactly!

Elizabeth - and thinking about the difference between standard of living and quality of life is part of the radical re-thinking.

Cathy said...

I found your review of the book very interesting Juliet. The oil situation is obviously very serious - a lot more than most of us realise. I think humanity tends to think along the lines of "someone will have discovered something else before it gets to the situation of the oil running out therefore I am not going to worry about it". It is something we all need to address in our own ways.

I rarely ever buy new clothes except underwear because I live in one of the wealthiest areas of the country (not in one of the wealthiest houses though..haha) and our charity shops are second to none. I agree with bunnygirl that buying second hand you can get fantastic quality without the fantastic price. I live on salads, quorn and vegetables as I am always on a diet. I have had one holiday (in Cornwall) in the past 9 years. I wouldn't bother going abroad as I think the UK is the most amazing place anyway. We only use our car for local journey's where walking would be a problem. I only have a very basic mobile phone.

I let myself down by buying books, although a lot of them also come from charity shops.

I quite agree that quality of life and standard of living are two different things. I enjoy my quality of life but others would regard few new clothes and hardly any holidays as a very poor standard of living.

Catherine said...

Life has been very "back to basics" here in the last couple of weeks with no power, water etc. after the earthquake. I have to say I really appreciated the power when it came back on, also running water. So many shops closed, there's no chance to buy "stuff" and we don't really miss it.
But not having a car - well, all the buses are off the roads so it is car, bike or walk - fortunately the buses are beginning to run again as my daughter who doesn't drive would otherwise have no way of getting to work. And there are no supermarkets open in our area, without a car we would have had no way of getting any food as our emergency supplies ran out (other than relying on the kindness of neighbours, I suppose).
In the future I think our cities will be structured more around alternative ways of living, but it doesn't always work very well at the moment.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Catherine, I'm glad you're okay after the earthquake, that must have been a terrible experience! You make some very good points there and I agree entirely there are situations where a car becomes essential, rural areas are another example. If I'd put all my thoughts into the blog post, I'd still be writing it!