We can’t shop our way into saving the planet, no matter how green the products are that we buy.
That’s because we Americans buy too much stuff. In fact, a new book calls our excessive consumption a national addiction that threatens the entire planet.
In Addict Nation: An Intervention for America, HLN journalist and investigative reporter Jane Velez-Mitchell takes a wide-ranging look at how American society fosters addictive behavior. Jane tells us “straight and sober” how our obsession with consumerism and our other myriad addictions are destroying our environment.
The book’s major premise is that almost all Americans are addicted to something.
Not just to alcohol and drugs, which are certainly serious problems in our society—but most importantly we are addicted to consumption. We continually buy more things than we need or even want.
The production of all those products creates pollution and requires large amounts of energy, especially oil. Velez-Mitchell and co-author Sandra Mohr, an award-winning filmmaker, convincingly connect the dots between our materialism and the environmental hangover it creates.
Paper or Plastic?
The first chapter of the book points out that “Paper products are the most frequently purchased packaged goods found in American homes, right after bread and other baked goods” (which are covered in her chapter on being addicted to food).
Paper products are a hot topic for us here at Living Green. We recently ran an article about how virgin forests are being used to make paper towels, facial tissues—and toilet paper. (We would never think that it’s okay to wipe our butts with a dollar bill, but don’t think twice about using a tree hundreds of years old to do the job.)
“If every household in the U.S. replaced just one roll of 120 count virgin fiber paper towels with a 100 percent recycled one, we could save: 933,000 trees, 2.4 million cubic feet of landfill space, equal to 3700 full garbage trucks, 350 million gallons of water, a year’s supply for 2700 families of four; and avoid 59,600 tons of emission.”
Jane holds up a mirror that is difficult for our society to look at. With only five percent of the world’s population, we are responsible for 33 percent of global consumption.
What fuels this consumption is oil—not just as fuel but also as the raw material for plastic. Addict Nation calls big oil “the elephant in the room when it comes to overconsumption. It’s not just gas. It’s plastic.” Jane continues, “The next time we casually toss away a plastic water bottle, we should pause to think of the catastrophic Gulf oil spill. If we really look hard into those oily waters, we just might see our own reflection.”
Jane’s reflections on our society are spot on.
“In my mind, the Gulf oil spill marked a turning point and a tipping point. After decades of living in denial, we Americans were finally forced to stare at the consequences of our consumer lifestyle. The oil slick became a metaphor for everything wrong with our materialistic culture. It was as if the whole country was being dragged into an intervention.”
The interventions that Jane Velez-Mitchell calls for in her book include other societal addictions that I hope, by merely mentioning the titles of her chapters, will convince you that Addict Nation is one of those rare books that will totally change your paradigm, your way at looking at the society we live in. Those chapter titles include:
- The Stuffers: Addicted to Consumption
- The Pharmers: Addicted to Pharmaceuticals
- The Cybers: Addicted to Tech
- The Stargazers: Addicted to Celebrity
- The Players: Addicted to Sex
- The Bloodlusters: Addicted to Crime
- The Punishers: Addicted to Incarceration
- The Breeders: Addicted to Procreation
- The Gluttons: Addicted to Food (and drink)
- The Scrubbers: Addicted to Cleanliness (and the chemicals that clean us)
- The Mongers: Addicted to War
In covering these topics, Addict Nation offers ideas that even some leading edge environmentalists have not fully recognized.
The Rights of Nature and Animals
“We need to hold industry much more accountable for environmental wreckage, exploitation, and cruelty. One innovative way to do that would be to assign “rights” to certain entities in our world which have heretofore been denied them. If natural entities, like bodies of water, such as the Gulf of Mexico, were assigned “natural rights,” there would be a total prohibition on the kind of disastrous pollution that is now occurring. It simply would not be allowed because it would be a violation of its natural rights. We’d be forced to come up with alternatives to gas and oil-based plastics.
“Similarly, if we assigned entities, such as forests, natural rights, we would drastically limit the amount of trees used for paper products. Tough, new criteria would be established to justify the destruction of a tree, which would make wanton use of virgin wood economically unfeasible, forcing paper companies to switch to recycled paper en masse. If Seventh Generation can do it, why can’t all the other companies? The answer is: they can. They just won’t do it until they’re pushed either by a new economic system or by consumer demand.”
Jane is flying higher than a kite by now, but she sure is grounded and clear headed. She’s talking about an economic revolution that would transform Wall Street’s addiction to greed into a capitalistic system that is focused on trees, clean air, and fresh water.
And she’s also talking about the humane treatment of animals.
“If we formally recognized that the millions of animals raised and killed for fashion in America every year had ‘inalienable rights’ to humane treatment, it would effectively put the fur industry out of business.” She goes on, “The assignment of such rights would require giving cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, and other farm animals room to move, access to the outdoors, and opportunities to socialize. This would make meat more expensive, which would encourage people to eat differently and incorporate more varieties of vegetables, grains, and legumes into their diet.”
Compassionate Capitalism: An Oxymoron or America’s Future?
Some psychologists believe that if you scratch an addict, you find a perfectionist that wants the world to be the utopia they imagine could be. If this is true, I want Jane’s utopia, which she acknowledges is called by others “compassionate capitalism.”
“While many suggested environmental reforms, like cap and trade, are extraordinarily complex, the assignment of rights to animals and nature is an extraordinarily simple way to achieve the same results. ‘Natural rights’ could be assigned to land, water, air, domestic farm animals, and wild animals. That would instantly criminalize much of the rapacious destruction of the environment occurring by private industry today. For those who say, this would wreak economic havoc, well… that’s what critics said about the elimination of slavery too.”
The authors of Addict Nation point out a truth that should be self-evident to everyone, but obviously isn’t.
“It’s incomprehensible that we Americans are drowning in material items with no consideration for the damage we are doing to the planet. We, in the developed world, need to make amends for the destruction we have wrought on so many developing countries. We need to start producing, not to profit, but to satisfy real, pressing needs of those living half a world away.”
And I haven’t even talked about Jane’s ideas about converting the measure of our Gross National Product into a measure of our Gross National Happiness.
Go get the book, read it, change your life, and help the planet. Click here to buy.
Jane Velez Mitchell is an award-winning television journalist and host of the hit TV show Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell on CNN’s Headline News (HLN). Velez-Mitchell has become a nationally recognized voice on addiction, often covering the issue on her TV show. With more than three decades of journalistic experience and more that 15 years of sobriety, she is an astute observer of national trends.
Sandra Mohr, co-author of Addict Nation, is an award-winning filmmaker, who wrote, directed, and produced Stock Shock, a powerful documentary about stock market manipulation. Her company, Mohr Productions, Inc., creates programming for TV and the internet.
Richard Kujawski is Managing Editor for LivingGreenMag, an online publication that informs and educates readers on a range of environmental and lifestyle issues, and highlights various non-profit causes. Visit www.LivingGreenMag.com.
Editor: Seychelles Pitton
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