Sunday, September 16, 2007

Book: Confronting Consumption

I'm reading Confronting Consumption for the REL4936 class and it's all fairly blowing my mind. I'm having a bit of a disconnect. As I first read this stuff about individualization of environmentalism it was coming across totally as Greek. Then it slowly dawned on me what was being said and I kind of had an uncomfortable epiphany. The main gist of the book covers the different ways we are sort of fooling ourselves out of our rightful inheritance to the "good things" in life by pursuing a completely manufactured "good life." Does that make sense? Instead of citizens working towards keeping harmful industrial practices in check we've somehow fooled ourselves into taking the brunt of the results of these harmful practices on our own shoulders so we exercise our voices on these issues by individual consumer decisions rather than by being better caretakers. When we should be combining less individual transportation by car with demanding more stringent emissions and fuel standards, we are instead encouraged to buy more fuel-efficient cars and make no other changes to our lifestyle; instead of buying less packaged products and demanding that companies find better alternatives to present packaging technologies, we are instead encouraged to recycle more vigorously and buy "earth-friendly" packaging.

The "10 things you can do to save the earth" philosophy has been heavily damned in these pages and I'm faced with the uncomfortable realization that a lot of my current assumptions about how to "live green" have been based largely on this notion of being a consumer first and a citizen second.

I was talking about the book this morning with one of the librarians I work with, and after going on about the individualization of environmentalism, and how we are squandering social and political capital when we don't face these tougher issues of action, she asked, "does the book say anything about what we're supposed to do?" She touched, I think, on the fundamental question a lot of us are asking, which is how do we get out of this mess? The essays in Confronting Consumption are not an instruction book to action but an outline of the problems citizens are up against and which problems are the most pressing. So far it is an incredible read, but not for the faint of heart or the easily angered.
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