Our resident eco-radical would like to stop, but he just can't ...

"C" is for consume

by Bob Nanninga
hat does your average American have in common with alcoholics, drug addicts, overweight people, and the federal treasury? Over consumption. According to Webster's New World Dictionary, CONSUME is to destroy, to use up, to waste away, to eat or drink up.
The other day I was riding shotgun, as my companion burned fossil fuel, and we were confronted by some bumper sticker philosophy that was both surprisingly insightful and equally sad. Three words said it all, "BORN TO SHOP." Have we as a species been reduced to that? I'm sure you have seen variations on the theme: "I'D RATHER BE SHOPPING," "WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GO SHOPPING," and the prophetic, "SHOP TILL YOU DROP." Well ladies and gentlemen, it seems we're on our knees.
Here in America we are born to shop, the consumption-oriented status quo will have it no other way. From the moment a child is born in America, he or she is a consumer. Contrary to the popular belief, man was not born in sin, he was born in debt.
The cycle starts shortly after a baby takes it's first breath, when a nurse slaps a disposable diaper an infant. Somewhere on Madison Avenue is someone whose sole job is to convince new parents that their child cannot leave the hospital without being dressed in a stylish ensemble, complete with matching hat and booties. Then there is the person who is trying to sell a vast array of stuff to wipe on the baby's butt. Next we have a whole industry based on convincing mothers they should bottle feed their hungry child milk from an entirely different species. Why? Because there is no way to market moth-er's milk.
As a child grows, he is inundated with toys. My question is: how did humans survive without Fisher Price? Why, exactly, have we replaced love with things? Society has convinced us all that more is better, and to be "better" we must constantly buy and consume more. Consumption is equated with quality of life. Television bombards the populace with images that promote feelings of inadequacy if you're not purchasing the newest high-tech gadget, wearing the latest fashion or driving the best car. We have products for every occasion from womb to tomb.
But to afford all these consumer goods like cappucino machines, electric breadmakers, Malibu Barbie, and Air Jordons, parents must work long hours away from their children. Excuse me, but how does that promote quality of life? A plastic toy derived from non-renewable resources is no substitute for quality time. What kind of message are we sending to our children? "Sorry son, daddy doesn't have time right now. I have to go to work, so I can buy you all those nice things you enjoy."
Now I'm quite aware that most people feel that life as we know it depends on our collective consumptive practices. Industry gives people something to do, and to keep industry viable, people must keep buying all the stuff that these industries continue to crank out. It seems like Catch-22. Work to live, live to work. Keeping up with the Jones can kill you, not to mention the planet that has to provide for the Jones, the Nguyens, and the Ortegas.
Next time you're out shopping, and you have an uncontrollable urge to buy a kitchen gadget that you can no longer live without, ask yourself, "do I really need this?" I mean really need. The answer should be no. Remember, Homo Sapiens evolved without the benefit of Ginzu knives and Salad Shooters.
Tonight when you're watching television, count the number of times they advertise the totally unnecessary. No matter how they try to disguise it, it's still an over-priced hamburger. In my lifetime, Certs breath mints have been "New and Improved" 25 times. What exactly are flavor crystals, anyway? Can somebody please tell me, just exactly how many brands of toothpaste does this planet need? And would someone please tell me why it is illegal for corporations to dump toxins into rivers, yet it is OK for consumers to pour tons of chemicals like Drano and Clorox down the drain everyday.
We live as if our actions and consumption habits don't matter. This must change, and I am just as guilty as the next guy. I use the word guilty because what we are doing to the planet, and the other life forms that share it with us, is a crime. As long as we accept the overindulgence of our culture, we are agreeing to the wholesale destruction of the environment. If someone knows of a 12-step program, like C.A. (consumers anonymous) please let me know. This is one addiction I can't buy my way out of.

Robert Nanninga is an independent video producer and an active member of the Green and environmental community.