Sustainable consumption

Last month I gave you homework; to watch ‘The Story of Stuff’ ( because this month we discuss patterns of consumption and their impacts on our planet.  Shortly after the ‘9-11’ attacks “President Bush didn’t call for sacrifice, he called for shopping”1.  I mention this quote to demonstrate the political hunger for growth, even in times of crisis.  Likewise, in Australia the Holy Grail for both Labor and Liberal sides of politics is growth.  I personally believe that advocating increased consumption of declining commodities is a recipe for disaster.  More material wealth does not make a society more happy.

Australians buy a lot of ‘stuff’ that frankly we do not need or even really want.  Before you buy ask yourself, will buying this item hurt the environment more than it will help me?  If the answer is yes, then save your money and your home from clutter.  If you decide to buy, choose the option that has the lower impact on the planet through consumer advice such as energy and water star ratings and look at ‘whole of life’ costs rather than merely purchase price.  When buying Australian products we can be assured regulations apply to their manufacture, production and distribution.  There is much less certainty with overseas products.  Sweatshops abound in Asia, Africa, Latin America and China often employing children as young as 5.  Buying footwear, clothes and toys from these places can carry a cost far higher than you pay for the item.

When it comes to food items I never cease to be amazed at the size of the global marketplace we source products from.  This throws up many issues ranging from ‘food miles’ to ethical production methods.  ‘Fair Trade’ branding is a guarantee the growers are getting realistic prices for their products but is limited in the products it covers.  The rule for fruit and vegetables is ‘buy local’.  Large chains transport produce from W.A. to major packaging facilities in the eastern states then truck them back for sale, how stupid is that?  You actually do not even have to go to the shops for you vegetables, businesses such as ‘The Organic Collective’2 supply over 300 homes in the Fremantle area with Organic Fruit and Vegetables.  They operate a carbon neutral business, even offsetting their staff travel and best of all their produce is grown to taste good, not grown to cope with the rigors of long distance travel.  I eat meat, but limit it to free range and no longer buy meat from ruminants such as beef, lamb and mutton because of their methane emissions.  Cattle and sheep in Australia are contributing more to global warming than all our coal fired power stations3.

Gandhi said, ‘The earth can offer the needs of all, but not the greed of all; live simply so others can simply live’4, take this thought with you whenever you go shopping and your purchases will be less of a burden to carry home!

This month I have focused on the personal, next month I will look at the political and the ethics of decision making by our elected representatives.

 Published in Fremantle Herald on 3rd April 2010

1                  Justin Fox 2009                                                 Time magazine 19-1-2009

2                  The Organic Collective                                  Brendan Morrow 0410550849 or 93315590

3                  Peter Singer                                                       ABC Big Ideas 7-3-2010



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