2. Capitalism vs Climate = Mindless Consumption vs Real Wellbeing

Naomi Klein is right in looking to capitalism, the slave-master of paid-up members of consumer society, to identify the true culprit of climate change and environmental decline. But capitalism, and the hugely excessive consumption of material goods on which it depends for fulfilling its primary motive of maximising profit just for the sake of maximising profit, has taken on the monstrous proportions and almost ubiquitous reach that it has because it taps into and exploits a common human inclination. This is our tendency to be attracted to material possessions, to comfort, convenience and the hollow social status accorded to wealth and possessions. Even among the still tiny proportion of people who recognise the direct relationship between their own personal purchasing choices and global ecological destruction and therefore consciously try and avoid over-consumption, there are those who feel the attraction of acquisition, as I found when I made a study of people happily living lifestyles of modest material consumption.While capitalism can surely be regarded as the fundamental cause of climate change, the perpetuation of capitalism requires us all to play its game. We do have the option of dropping the ball and walking away. The happily modest consumers in my study, like all voluntary simplifiers, provide plentiful evidence that we need not buy into lifestyles of mindless consumption, that are so much the norm or common aspiration, in order to live happily; indeed cultivating the non-material possibilities of life generally results in higher wellbeing. For the sake of the climate and of personal wellbeing, now is the time for human beings en masse to turn to more satisfying, less damaging ways of living.We need to learn to resist the undoubtedly powerful pull on us of things that we don’t actually need in order to live satisfying lives. This will be a great deal easier if we come fully to realise the greater degree of true and lasting wellbeing to be gained from the non-material assets of good relationships, a sense of belonging, of meaning and purpose, of creativity, of making a contribution, and of time spent in natural surroundings, than from shopping or an overflowing bank balance.

Hopefully there is a growing recognition that the kick we get as we take possession of yet one more pair of shoes, or a DVD that we may watch only once, or a shiny replacement for the still working but tired-looking gadget, is but short-lived. The satisfaction of handing over cash or completing an online card payment in return for the promise of ownership of what is likely to be the product of a complex and ecologically damaging process of extraction, manufacture, packaging and transportation is fleeting; the thrill of actual possession usually fades quickly as the new object of desire is absorbed into our stock of belongings.  Neither can the sum of all those feelings of gratification at acquisition begin to compare in value with the accumulated moments of joy at the smiles given to or received from friends or strangers, of hand-holding or hugs with children or grand-parents, or a song sung; nor with the satisfaction felt at a problem solved, a worthwhile task accomplished, a skill mastered, a nesting bird sighted, or the other innumerable potential moments of emotional nourishment to be found in everyday life. While our collective pursuit of yet more instants of acquisition, multiplied inordinately, is destroying the planet with gathering speed, it is the moments of non-material fulfillment that accumulate and aggregate to generate personal wellbeing.

First published on the Huffington Post 13th November 2014

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3 Responses to 2. Capitalism vs Climate = Mindless Consumption vs Real Wellbeing

  1. i enjoyed this article. i’ve finally concluded the same thing at 24 yrs old and are making my choices because of this fact: While capitalism can surely be regarded as the fundamental cause of climate change, the perpetuation of capitalism requires us all to play its game. It plagues me with indecision.

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  2. The indecision is derived from the rules of the game. The rules of the game being defined as having to produce something that is consumed by someone else. Applied further; having to produce something that someone will pay for. This doesn’t omit paths that take money from the banks and create an experience for someone that is low harm on the climate and humans. For example creating a new type of yoga.

    I am at a stage in my life where i must make a choice of what career path or area of business i progress with and this must in return create returns for myself and family, at the same time as satisfying the basic needs of relentless consumers. Residing myself to the 9-5 grind and giving up an opportunity to create a business, that i am interested, is so grudging that i can’t seem to let it go. So the next step is what to produce and how to market it.. and if i don’t do this i get left behind by inflation eating into my funds and consequent loss of social status, buying power etc – it is fine for myself to be self aware that social status doesn’t matter (in most scenarios) but people who don’t understand how these human phenomena work or have the awareness of these things respond basically within these parameters. This leaves me at a competitive disadvantage to NOT use them to my advantage.

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  3. So basically, because capitalism requires growth, and the human world plan requires growth to keep markets and value systems stable it promotes the mass consumption of everything. This is a very advanced change of human behaviour, far from what was when all we needed was a meal and shelter. We all know we can’t continue as we are mindlessly taking control of precious resources but what is the next best alternative that prevents ‘MAD MAX’ like chaos. These things make choosing a career path really hard. These things make formulating a proper management plan for the climate hard. It seems like their is always going to be a trade-off. Say we manage to get robotics to a point where we don’t need to work. What do we do then? Cap human population? Cap consumption?

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