It is problematic when we view our planet as unlimited, untapped potential to fuel an ever-expanding economy of excess consumerism.
Unfortunately, in our culture of ever-expanding industry, big business, and mass consumption, this is exactly what we seem to do.
We participate in the idea of exponential growth—or at least continual growth. We give this concept great value, and place it on a pedestal we call “success.” Businesses are expected to get larger and larger along with profits. Investments are supposed to see endless growth, making us rich if only we put away money early enough. Many approach even the physical conditioning of their bodies the same way and expect to keep getting continuously bigger, leaner, stronger. More. More. More.
However, the truth is that exponential growth isn’t sustainable. Our bodies are limited by genetic limitations, aging, and eventual death. Businesses are limited by the size of economies and populations. Most of all, our planet is limited in resources, and based on our actions as a species, we seem to be forgetting this. Everything reaches a limit, and the closer we push to that limit the more feedback we feel from the limiting factors. We are feeling the effects of overpopulation, climate change, pollution, extinction of species, and the many other issues we are currently facing. We are seeing a rapid increase in population, rapid increase in consumption of goods, and rapid increase in pollution.
It’s a lethal combination that is killing our planet.
It’s a great fallacy to assume this is something we can sustain, and it’s irresponsible (as well as selfish) to disregard the well-being of future generations who will have to deal with our mess. We are quickly making our planet less habitable for life.
You don’t have to be a scientist to figure out how to make a difference. We can start by consuming less, and by consuming more wisely. It’s not complicated, but it takes willpower to rein in our consumption when we have been accustomed to so much thoughtless excess. If most people had the fortitude to be more careful in how they consumed things, and put more forethought into the consequences of their actions, then we would solve a lot of the environmental issues we face.
If we only took a moment to pause and think carefully about what we are about to purchase before we swipe that credit card, we would be buying less of the things we didn’t need and more of the things we actually have use for. We would also be choosing to consume things that use our resources in a more responsible, sustainable way.
It’s easy to point our fingers at companies for producing such a high volume of cheaply made goods that often consist of materials that can be harmful to us and the environment. We can say, “It’s their fault! I can’t control what big business does!” The catch is that you can.
The only reason they produce so much is because the demand for it exists. They produce more of the junk we buy because demand means more sales. We waste our money on items that don’t last, stuff that is made of plastic blends that can’t be recycled, and things we don’t even need that we end up throwing away. Most of these items end up in landfills and our oceans. We cause harm to ourselves and our planet by the championing of cheapness and convenience.
You may think that one person won’t make a difference by consuming less—but you are the only person you have actual control over. The first step begins with you and no one else.
You aren’t alone, either. There are other people doing what they can too. Collective action makes a difference. If you doubt the power of collective action, then look around at the mess we collectively made with poorly thought out actions. Collective actions created the issues, and collective actions will be what corrects them.
You’ve probably heard the adage that we vote every time we open our wallet. I couldn’t agree more. If demand decreases, so will the production level, and thus the negative environmental impact also decreases. Meanwhile, choosing to purchase eco-friendly alternatives raises the demand and increases the production of those items. This makes those more environmentally friendly goods more accessible to people, thus also allowing others to more easily make better choices.
It’s contagious in the best of ways.
The actions we personally take make a difference when they are observed by others. The more good decisions are observed, the more that behavior is normalized in our society. So, by making better decisions ourselves, we help create a new normal that benefits everyone. That’s how society improves.
We are already seeing society become more open to certain eco-friendly choices, such as using reusable bags, straws, and bottles. We will likely look back in human history one day and wonder why anyone ever used plastics in such an irresponsible way.
That doesn’t mean we can slack off about it, though. There is still pushback, still stubborn resistance to change, still people whose self-interest trumps the best interest of our species and environment, and still resistance of our governments to enact policies that will better protect our planet.
It’s important to avoid turning a blind eye to what is going on in our world but to also not let it break us. It’s painful to look at it, but we can’t just turn away because it makes us feel uncomfortable. We have to lean into it. We can’t afford to cower into a small, secluded life. We have to be engaged. We have to be the change we want to see.
Take advantage of the time and place to make strategic moves to make a difference (hint: the voting booth is one), and don’t become paralyzed into inaction by the immensity of the problem. Don’t become discouraged. Collective action is powerful. Remember? All large accomplishments are the sum of many small actions.
It is true that to live is to consume, but we have the intellect to consume more responsibly, and it’s up to us to determine what we will do going forward. It starts with you, with me, and with each one of us on this planet.
It’s not too late. Start making small changes. Your efforts matter. You can make a difference.