The so-called “green economy” has exploded in size in the past decade. Eco-chic has migrated from the granola fringe to the pages of glossy magazines. Yet as environmentally responsible products gain in popularity, many people worry that “conscious consumption” has become a substitute for political action. Can we promote ecological sustainability through buying better things? Or is buying stuff just replicating the problem? Kevin Danaher, co-founder of GreenFestivals, says eco-fair products can fund environmental political education. Writer-activist Derrick Jensen disagrees.
by Kevin Danaher
Dr. Kevin Danaher is a co-founder of Global Exchange, Fair Trade USA, and the Green Festivals, all of which have created many good jobs, transferred wealth from rich to poor, and raised environmental awareness.
There’s no denying it: We Americans are the hogs of the planet. We represent less than five percent of the world’s people but consume roughly 25 percent of the world’s resources. So we definitely need to cut back severely on our consumption. And one way to do that is to consume more consciously.
It’s easy for intellectuals to bemoan the collapse of all biological systems and tell everyone to stop buying stuff. But everyone needs a certain amount of stuff to survive. When you buy toilet paper (and unless you’re using corncobs or last week’s newspaper, we all buy toilet paper) do you read the package to see how much recycled content is in it? When you buy coffee, do you ask if the beans were produced under fair- trade-certified conditions?
Even the most radical anti-capitalist activist (and I consider myself one) has to buy some things. So the question is: Should you buy corporate crap manufactured in sweatshops and made with toxic ingredients? Or should you be able to buy products that do not exploit people and nature?
by Derrick Jensen
The fact that the question – can we promote ecological sustainability through buying better things? – is taken seriously points to the absurdity of so much environmental discourse. We need to be clear: An industrial economy, no matter how green it declares itself, is inherently unsustainable. It is based on the use of nonrenewable resources and the hyperexploitation of renewable resources. In short, it’s based on drawdown. It’s a bit late in the murder of the planet to have to be saying this to environmentalists.
There has never been a sustainable civilization, and industrial civilization has been especially disastrous. Industrial civilization is also inherently unjust, as it is based on the importation of resources – a less kind word is theft – from colonies to the center of empire. In order for these resources to be stolen, Indigenous People must be driven from the land and forced into the global cash economy. The fact that people of good heart can ignore this reveals the degree to which they have internalized the logic of capitalism.
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