Is consumerism *really* killing the planet? No, it’s worse than that…
The green movement has an annoying habit of blaming environmental impacts squarely on capitalism, and consumerism in particular. The anti-capitalist slant ignores the inconvenient fact that when the Guardian listed the 20 most polluting companies in the world, 12 of them were state-owned, including that of Venezuela, an avowedly socialist state which funds its social programmes via the world’s biggest oil reserves. I should quickly add that I am NOT saying socialism causes climate change, just making the point that looking at Sustainability through a left/right lens is foolish.
So what about consumerism? Are we buying too much tat? Probably, but when researching some information on food for a client, I came across the above breakdown of UK citizen’s carbon footprint published by the British Retail Consortium, based on data presented to the UK Citizens Climate Assembly (before anybody asks if it can be trusted). It shows that non-food purchases are just 7% of our footprint, whereas vast bulk of it is pretty prosaic, essential stuff: food, heating and powering our homes, commuting, doing the school run etc.
This is actually a bigger problem than if consumerism was to blame for the bulk of emissions. It is no great sacrifice to cut down on discretionary spending such as a new outfit ahead of a night out or a glossy magazine to read on the bus home, but people will always need to eat, heat and light their homes, and many (if not most) need to travel to work. While we can all eat lower carbon food (ie cutting down on meat and dairy), switch to low carbon domestic fuel, holiday closer to home and/or buy a bicycle (if you can get hold of one at the moment), but tackling many of these issues properly – retrofitting domestic properties, restructuring our cities, reinventing how we work – is a HUGE challenge.
Sneering at people going shopping on a Saturday afternoon is merely a form of virtue signalling.