Sustainable Living: Consumption & Pollution

Question:  How do you propose to limit industry pollution and the amount of society’s consumption?

Answer:  Sustainable living is a choice by the so labeled “consumer”, it cannot all be blamed on the “Production” side of the equation, although production is driven by demand. It’s a two way street, consumption is the larger of the two drivers. For example, it is true that people engaged in clear cutting forests are doing something wrong (in my opinion), but if there was suddenly zero demand for any wood or paper products they would leave the forests to do something else for an income. So a central element in decreasing environmental harm is lowered demand for consumption.

This doesn’t need to be a case of sacrifice, though (unless a given person wants to) — instead it’s about adding in more quality of life.  There is a lot of life juice that Americans are missing out on by sitting in their big houses, driving alone in their 4000-pound cars, watching their flat-screen TVs, and flying around on business.  I advocate for increased family time, more leisure outside, more playing of sports (instead of watching them), more socializing without devices – in short, more substantive connection with the natural world and each other.  For example, in my experience healthy kids love to go outside and play with their parents, and get antsy if they can’t.  I believe as a society we need to value family time more; doing this, the gadgets of consumption get dusty as they are left behind.  Part of this can be a “Sell your TV” campaign, because though there is nothing inherently wrong with television, it separates people, is a form of consumption, and feeds much additional purchasing via advertisements for false needs.

Sustainable Living as Consumer Choices

I believe as we lose cheap energy, and resources get harder and more expensive to acquire, consumption will decrease on its own. Paying $6/gallon to drive to a Big Box store for a far-more-expensive XYZ will not be as appealing as it is today.  Not only has our world reached Peak Oil, I believe we are at Peak Waste right now.  The luxurious behavior that waste is will get more expensive and more rare as people re-learn to be lean and efficient like our ancestors were, fixing things when they are broken instead of tossing it out to buy a new one.

One trend that has begun, and needs to grow, is valuing local quality goods over cheap stuff from who-knows-where.  For example, Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and farmers’ markets.  This builds local income and resilience, as well as pride in doing something well.  It also compels former factory workers in faraway lands to focus more on things of benefit where they are, such as food production instead of fabricating plastic trinkets out of imported oil — this is second-tier, knock-on resiliency.

All of the above improvements so far have been on the demand side (culture), because I believe that is where the real success lies.  It is tempting to impose taxes or restrictions in any given situation, especially for an elected leader, but we should move to that as a second choice, not as a first tactic.  Policies can be implemented on the supply side, though, that are worthy and helpful.  For example, a new tax on any company of over fifty employees.  This disincentivizes large corporations, makes mass produced consumer goods more expensive (therefore growing local markets), and sends the clear message that we the central government are working to help local communities (and not just with lip service in campaign speeches).  Funds from the corporate tax can go to micro-business incubators and state university extension programs to stimulate local knowledge, innovation, and production.