Consumption is a big, important environmental and moral issue, but it doesn’t get talked about nearly as much as it should. A group based in Takoma Park, Md., called the Center for a New American Dream does some great work around consumption, but I’m not aware of any other NGOs that make it a focus. The result is the we get bombarded nonstop with messages from the mass culture and from advertisers telling us that if we buy more stuff, we will be happier, sexier, more admired or respected, and we get all too few countervailing messages.
It’s up to families and religion, as best as I can tell, to deliver the countercultural message–that happiness is more likely to come from pursuing resources that are unlimited (friendship, love, community, knowledge, spiritual growth) than it is from consuming stuff that is limited (houses, cars, electronics, toys) and not likely to be good for the planet. I’ve often heard the statistic that Americans make up 5% of the world’s population and consume 25% of its energy and material, although I don’t know the source. Anyone know?
In any case, I was pleased to see that a big, evangelical church in Cincinnati, Ohio, called Crossroads is tackling the issue of consumption head-on. Interesting, I’m told that Crossroads was started by a group of employees from Procter & Gamble. Here’s how the church describes a series of Sunday teachings for the month of November on its website:
Do you know the Joneses? They live in bigger houses, drive nicer cars and wear more stylish clothes than you do. Try as you might to keep up, they always seem to be a few steps ahead. Might sound familiar, but the reality is that ‘the Joneses’ are a lie – they’re just an invisible standard propped up by a consumer culture that profits from telling us what and how much we ‘should’ have. And pursuing this standard only leads to personal, financial and spiritual wreckage. Join us in November as we expose the faÃ§ade of ‘the Joneses’ and kick ’em to the curb.
I think business will gradually help us solve many environmental issues–global warming, renewable energy, overfishing, just to name a few–but dealing with overconsumption, however we choose to define it, will be up to us.