the Informed

Consumption vs. Compassion: The Immorality of Overconsumption in an Overburdened World

If the day comes when the world becomes uninhabitable by human beings, there will, it would seem, be a period of time in those fateful end-days where our yet-to-be-born great-grandchildren will ask themselves, "if they knew how to fix this back then, why did they not choose to do so?" They will undoubtedly curse our names and they will feel sadness and outrage at the fact that we did nothing to save them from our mistakes, our hubris, from our utterly selfish greed.

They will look up into the smog-choked skies, where birds no longer fly in their silent spring, across anoxic oceans gone dead, rotting from their stagnant, unmoving waters and without life other than giant green and brown masses of algae and plankton. And they will wonder why we toiled so hard for centuries to understand the nature of our universe and our natural world, and yet choose not to use this knowledge, and choose to let the world become uninhabitable for their progeny. They will feel shame and rage and hopelessness as the final tipping point of our inevitable doom is reached and their fate is sealed forever, and human life on this planet ends, once and for all.

What then for us, for the ones who are living now in this so-called decade zero? When the effects of our unsustainable lives become more and more unbearable for the planet, with the power of our fundamentalist capitalism that fuels this pollution seemingly too great to stop, there is a point where it becomes a moral question as to whether or not we will choose to live our lives as if there were only one planet. To do otherwise would be unethical.

Current Energy Use & Trends:

Just take a look at our current use of energy and resources on this finite planet: in the United States, the per capita carbon emissions is almost 20 30 tonnes per year, and this in a world where 460 kilograms per year is considered sustainable by many scientists. And 30 tonnes is only part of the picture - carbon emitted from goods manufactured overseas and shipped there is a point where it becomes a moral question as to whether or not we will choose to live our lives as if there were only one planetis not part of the studies conducted, since global trade agreements exclude this data officially. Add to this the fact that some estimated 58% of the power generated in the United States is wasted through mostly sheer inefficiency, and it soon becomes clear that we are using far more than our share of resources here in the developed world. This creates further global problems, with poor and developing countries paying the biggest price for our over-consumption, with hunger and poverty being the offset. Compelled and promoted by advertising and the media, the very system itself propagates consumption on every level, from privatized power providers for profit to the globalization of economies around the world. Four hundred and sixty kilograms of carbon per person per year is the equivalent of a one-way flight from New York to Paris. I am betting on the fact that you, too, are consuming at a level far above what is moral and ethical. 

From over-sized personal vehicles to the burning of fossil fuels for pleasure (boating, ATVs, global travel, you name it) to the inherent waste in the system, to the profit motive to burn fossil fuels, we are in a downward spiral that we cannot easily get out of - but we can. We not only need to create renewable, publicly owned, not-for-profit energy grids worldwide (in fact we have achieved larger projects as a species in the past, like world-wide global highways, or the Internet), but we need to also dramatically and immediately reduce our consumption and, in effect, overcome our overwhelming feeling of privilege and indeed our very way of life. This is no small task, but when one looks at the problem as a moral issue, it becomes easier to digest and to want to take action and responsibility on a personal level.

The Rich Always Find A Way To Hide:

One way that many, especially the more affluent, choose to ultimately feel reasonably justified in their lifestyles is the so-called offsetting of their ways. Carbon offsets, while certainly containing an upside, are ultimately not enough, especially if the offset purchased does not address the issue of dependency on fossil fuels. Driving a hybrid automobile, divesting your accumulated and globally disproportionate wealth away from funds containing fossil fuel investments, recycling in your home; while all having certain beneficial qualities, ultimately these options do not encourage a society of less consumption. They in fact can do the opposite by lulling the monied amongst us into thinking that they can squeeze just a little bit more out of the system that apparently owes them so much because of their fortunate birth or accumulated wealth. Furthermore, the belief that technology will be the savior that will bail us out of this is also not enough - part of the solution but ultimately not enough. We cannot transition to a green and sustainable future while still holding on to our excessive, out-dated lifestyles. What needs to happen is the rebirth and creation of a society where over-consumption is not an option, is not acceptable and considered taboo, amoral, akin to being a killer of sorts.

Our Moral Obligation:

When we are personally and individually producing an estimated 40 to 50 times more emissions than our morally allotted airspace can sustainably deal with, we are in a state of crisis, both within the boundaries of the natural world and also within our inner world, where our souls must reconcile themselves with the life we choose to live and the impact that it has on other creatures and the environment around us. If we can think of it this way, when we were born, we But it is evident; we are not being responsible, in fact we are being reckless, we are condemning the future and its inhabitants to a grim and horrific realitywere also allotted and entitled to by our very existence, a certain amount of airspace that we will choose to keep clean or not - it is only up to us and it is our responsibility alone. But it is evident; we are not being responsible with our personal airspace, in fact we are being reckless, we are condemning the future and its inhabitants to a grim and horrific reality, and while it may not have been a catastrophe of our own design, it is a catastrophe that we are obliged to repair.

The way this may look in reality for many of us is not pretty. If a single trans-Atlantic flight burns up the whole year's worth of emissions, how then does one live in the modern world and not be an environmental outlaw? The math is simple; until such time as trans-Atlantic travel is not so dramatically inefficient, we don't do it unless somehow imperative. Until such time as a sustainable model has been achieved and the technology allows, we don't own yachts, or jet-skis or even personal vehicles. We vacation near home, we consume local food, local goods, local textiles, local, sustainable energy. We own far less material goods, we become humble. The cost of not doing these things is simply too great - we are in crisis and, especially if you have money in this world and tend to spend it on things, you are overconsuming. Even the average household in the United States is vastly, grossly over-consuming. And this just simply is not going to work in the long run. 

In order to repair our broken atmosphere, to repair our dying oceans and soil, we need to realize a massive shift in our fundamental ideologies. We in the developed world need to understand the consequences of our choices and we need to adjust them accordingly. We need to stop feeling entitled to any particular way of life and face the reality of our massive footprint and its destructive power. We need to understand that to do otherwise is wrong, is immoral and is unjust and unfair to our fellow citizens.  We need to change our thinking about ourselves and how we live, because that is the only barrier at the end of the day. Politics, policy and ultimately belief, are the only things that limit us. The choice for compassion for one another and for this precious and sacred world is all we really need. We most certainly can change, if we only can change our minds.

As within, so without - Hermes

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  1. Wow, this says it all for me. The things I think about first thing in the early morning, my contemplation time. Brilliant, thanks Craig. I will forward it to my daughters too. God bless. @joan_Rollins I follow you on twitter. :)

  2. Thanks @joan_Rollins for your kind words :)


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