It is fair to say that many of the citizens throughout the world, especially the developed nations, live as if there is an endless amount of natural resources to keep providing the world with everything we want. There is a very big desire for most people to want to buy more, have more, and do more. This happens even if the individual is unable to afford certain items; they still find a way to purchase what they want for the status quo part of it. Even if the citizens of planet Earth had the money to keep buying more new items, there is one problem that no one can ignore. The problem is that the natural resources are not going to be available forever. There are limited sources that will become depleted and then the real problems begin. The two issues that we are looking at through class and for this particular paper; one is that excessive consumption is not good for so many different reason, one of them is that we are using up all of what our planet has to offer. The second part of the discussion on this paper will be about how to shift to sustainability as we begin to see the loss of natural resources that are likely to get worse. I must agree with the research used for this argument, that there is a problem of excess consumption that is requiring the world to change toward sustainable options for the sake of our planet and those of us who are at fault for this mess that is happening from over consumption.
If the final decision that the focus of the paper is based on a strong agreement of the consumption pattern of humans that has become harmful to the planet and people, then a solution must be found. It might not be a quick solution or cause complete remain where damage was done, but at least the current pattern of excess waste will slow down and allow the plant to have a chance to recover some of the lost resources. The next question is how? How is a world spoiled with almost anything one wants to now be asked to scale back? That is the part of the discussion based on the reading materials.
How Did this Happen?
Before getting too involved in how or if this problem can be fixed, it is important to understand how and why this obsession for having so many materialistic things became so bad that a discussion like this is even happening. To understand the problems of a world full of people who cannot stop purchasing products at an excessive rate, one must begin by looking at several concepts presented in, The Overspent American: Upscaling, Downshifting, and the New Consumer by Juliet Schor. A key concept that Schor discusses in her book is called habitus. Habitus is actually an idea that was created by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who says that,
Habitus is a habitual condition, set of social conditioning, or “open set of dispositions.” It is the mental schema that individuals use to process subjectively the objective world around them. Through the habitus, socially produced tastes become what we experience as natural, personal, and individualized (just what we are) (Bourdieu; Schor, 1998, p.29).
So what this tells people is that there is a natural behavior pattern in all humans that makes them connect to external things in life to identify themselves with.
Those in society who are higher up in the social/economic condition of life are naturally able to purchase and consume more goods, in large quantity and quality, unlike the lower income members of society. According to this idea, only the well-off people are the heavy consumers, then the problem should not be so severe since we know that there are more middle and lower income people versus the rich. This is where the concept takes a new direction. The problem is that the rich may be consumer higher price items, but the various scales in socio-economic status only dictate what is being purchased. Basically the people are all consumer in large quantity, but it is a matter of choice in the differences of what the people purchase based on their income level. Schor writes, “Those with low cultural capital experience a movie emotionally, and those with high cultural capital analyze the screen writing and directing” (p.34). Therefore the materials maintaining the production of all the types of goods and services are still used up for the people to have the materialistic items in abundance. The sad reality is that a strong correlation that let’s one feel important is happening through what one has; what brand shoes, what kind of house, the cars, and the list could go on (Schor, 1998).
The problem with consumerism only becomes worse when the nature of the obsession becomes evident. Consumption levels are not only about the amount of items that a person can have, but also the social stature of people is connected to the ‘label’ or ‘brand’ that they are wearing or can afford to buy (Schor, 1998, p.45-56). Even those who may not be able to afford finer higher price items are finding ways to sacrifice important expenses to afford these unnecessary items that make the person feel valuable. As the mass production begin to dilute the value of the fancier items, the distinct individuals in society are taking this silly competition even further through buying only one-of-a-kind custom items that are even more expensive and cannot be purchased at regular stores (Schor, 1998, p.58). Once again, more production is necessary as society continues to become overly involved with having lots and lots of ‘things.’
The degrees of consumerism have gotten so out of control that peoples life choices for big decisions starts becoming about how their friends, family, peers, and society will perceive them based on what they own. One of the problems that have hurt America is the excessive desire to buy things that most people cannot afford. The housing market was a perfect example of how many people purchased homes that they could not afford to pay, which resulted defaulting on bank loans, ultimately creating a financial crisis for the country. The constant race to buy and have things to enjoy the admiration of others has gotten so out of control that a severe case of denial keeps so many Americans stuck in this cycle of borrowing to purchase more and more goods (Schor, 1998, p.83).
Schor proceeds to discuss the issues of excess spending and consuming by delivery some advice on how to reclaim control over the purchasing styles of the majority of American consumers. “Diderot Effect” is what consumer researchers are calling the strive toward conformity (Schor, 1998, p.144). Schor discusses nine principles to help people to pull themselves out of this ugly mess. “I anchor my principles in the value of social equity and solidarity, environmental sustainability, financial security, and the need for more family and free time” (Schor, 1998, p.145-146). Schor proceeds to deliver nine excellent principles that can be practiced to work toward a balanced lifestyle that will begin the process toward the individual path of living a more sustainable lifestyle for one’s own finances and quality of life, but also the shift toward a better outcome for the long-term damage that is happening to the planet (Schor, 1998).
Moving toward Sustainability
Now there is some understanding of why people have become heavy consumers in America and same could most likely be said throughout the world. The evidence of damage to the planet is one that really should force humanity to reconsider the selfishness of having a status that they want to identify with even when it is harmful for their immediate life and the life of generations of people to come. The details of the scientific evidence of the destruction or damage to Earth can be found throughout the scientific community that is focusing on environmental studies; however, as a topic that is extensive and complex, the focus will remain on what people can do. The changes that each person is capable of making that hopefully begin to have an effect that becomes a shift towards healthier planet with happier people and families.
In an article from the Journal of Consumer Culture, authors Sahakian et.al (2013) discuss the methods that many people, groups and communities can begin to work on to live and support a sustainable lifestyle. “If we are interested in change, we need to identify all of the agentive aspects of a particular practice and those that might be most influential over space and time” (Sahakian et.al, 2013, p.40). The message that the writers are aiming to deliver in the article is that large drastic changes are not the way to change the long term habits that have led to the excessively wasteful lifestyles. By working on a smaller scale, slow adaption to the choices of mindfulness in caring for the environment through limiting each person’s own spending habits, the changes will be doable and permanent (Sahakian et.al, 201, p.41).
Emerging of Eco-Habitus
A concept called eco-habitus is discussed in another article from the Journal of Consumer Culture, this one written by a group of researchers who have discussed specific practices that the ethical consumers are moving toward (Carfagna, 2014). The ethical consumers unfortunately tend to be the individuals in the higher income range, but often this is where the changes will begin and become more common over a period of time. The new adapters of these ideas are making choices that are minimizing the use of products that are harmful to the environment and also that are placing less focus on the consumption of materialistic goods as a symbol of status. Obviously the change has a long road ahead before a drastic difference will be seen throughout society and the world, but if the government gets involved to place policies into effect, this transition will happen much faster. The responsibility begins with the individual, then on families, neighborhoods, communities, society, the government and corporations to support the change in the attitude people have toward the earth and the goods and services that we have learned to become spoiled with (Carfagna, 2014). As I conclude, it is my hope that the evidence in the report shows the reader the importance of the role of consumerism on the damage to the planet, and how a part of living a sustainable life will begin with taking responsibility for the amount of waste we produce and the problems we accumulate for the addiction to materialistic goods to feel ok about ourselves.
Carfagna, Lindsey B.l, Emilie A. Dubois, Connor Fitzmaurice, Monique Y. Ouimette, Juliet B. Schor,
Margaret Willis, and Thomas Laidley. "An Emerging Eco-habitus: The Reconfiguration of High Cultural Capital Practices among Ethical Consumers." Journal of Consumer Culture 14.2 (2014): 158-78. Sage Pub. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.
Sahakian, Marilyn, and Harold Wilhite. "Making Practice Theory Practicable: Towards More Sustainable
Forms of Consumption." Journal of Consumer Culture 14.1 (2013): 25-44. Sage Pub. Web. 4 Apr. 2015.
Schor, Juliet. The Overspent American: Upscaling, Downshifting, and the New Consumer. New York,
NY: Basic, 1998. Print.