Sustainable living: It’s more about the “us” and less about the “I”

What needs to happen for us to decide we need to change the way we live? Can it be a gradual economic transition led by politicians, or will it require a movement in which we as citizens demand change? Although we’ve known about anthropogenic climate change for decades, we yet have to act on a large enough scale. Weather records are being broken nearly every year and extreme weather events occur more frequently. But for some reason we seem to think that we’ll be fine. It’s not us who will have to do something, it’s the others (our neighbours, politicians, companies, the USA and China). But for real change to happen, we need to be up for it too, as climate change challenges our predominant culture: consumerism.

When the production of goods accelerated with the Industrial Revolution, supply outweighed demand, raising the question of who would buy all this stuff. The problem was solved by introducing a new culture: consumerism. Via advertisements people were encouraged to buy stuff, to treat themselves to something new. And to keep the assembly line running, products were designed to be thrown away. The best example are disposables, with many having been made to be used once (e.g. coffee cups) and others only a little longer (e.g. razors). Most other products are now designed to become obsolete: when broken, they are difficult to repair (e.g. washing machines and TVs), fixing them is more expensive than buying new (e.g. kettle or toaster) or newer versions are not compatible with older ones (e.g. mobile phones and laptops). And then there’s obviously trends that keep changing, tempting us to buy new, popular things.

In this culture, it’s all about the individual – the consumer: I want this, I want to do that. Whilst busy pleasing our desires (of which some have been created by producers), we seem to have forgotten about our collective wellbeing. We’re willing to trash the planet, and with that the ecosystem services we depend on, for convenience, short-term pleasure and fashion trends. If we want to live sustainably together then these are the wrong attitudes. While buying “greener” products with a lower environmental impact is part of the solution, addressing the current environmental challenges with shopping is not. Ultimately, we need to change the way we consume and think more about others and the planet, and less about us.

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