In part one we learned about the value of environmental goods and services and the difficulty to account for it in our economic system. In this final instalment, we discuss the impacts of consumerism on the road to sustainability. (Picture by José Cuervo Elorza)
The impacts of consumerismIn
In the face of climate change and environmental degradation, it is now evident that every aspect of our existence must be analysed for the long term well being of our species. We must protect the environment which sustains us by adopting more environmentally friendly and sustainable practices (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2006, 2011; United Nations, 2011). A change in farming practices may reduce our environmental footprint. For example, sheep and goat production is less damaging to the environment than beef in terms of water use, green house gas emission, soil degradation and nutrient loading. This knowledge empowers the consumer, aiding them in making a smarter choice for environment through their spending habits.
While production choices are out of direct control, a paradigm shift is needed in our consumer consciousness to force indirect change in the system. Ultimately, the buck stops with the consumer. Remember reading earlier that demand drives production? As individuals, we must be vigilant about the source of our goods and services. Educating ourselves on the environmental cost of our goods and services is a difficult task, particularly when those costs (known as externalities) are often hidden.
There are many tools available to aid the modern consumer and help them achieve a more sustainable and conscious choice in the market place. For example, many applications are available on smart phones to educate the consumer. The Shop Ethical! App is a guide that provides information to consumers on the environmental and social record of companies behind many of the brands we see commonly in supermarkets. This guide can help you steer clear of companies that are known to pollute, break environmental legislation or who impose high society externalities with their goods and services. Another app, the Australian Sustainability Seafood Guide identifies species that are over fished or harvested in an unsustainable or ecologically damaging fashion. Similar apps are available for other countries.
Most of us would have heard the term “think globally, act locally”? It has never had a truer meaning than in our current economic and environmental situation. When you purchase products, locally sourced and made options should be favoured where available. These options might be a little higher in price; however, the carbon footprint of such items will be far lower than the imported version. Visit your local farmers market to source fresh produce rather than large supermarket chains which may even be selling imported produce. Again, the price may be marginally higher; however, it is a small price to pay for environmental piece of mind.
Knowledge is power, and you wield a mighty weapon each time you go to the supermarket. Consumerism has bought us many comforts which we now know are not sustainable. It is time for us, as consumers, to become a little uncomfortable, and return to some grass root thinking. The greed cycle must be broken, and it falls to us as individuals, and as societies to do so.
This completes the two part series on the impacts of the economy on the environment by guest blogger Rhianna Blackthorn. This article appeared on Kosmos9‘s blog.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Rhianna Blackthorn lives in Australia with her husband and 18 year old daughter. She is a wildlife ecologist, and is currently in the final year of her Environmental Science degree. She attends university, maintains three blogs, and engages in various community activities regarding sustainability and environmental protection. Her blogs are Rhianna’s Guide to Ethical Eating, The Environmental Rhi-Source and Reflections. Of herself, Rhianna writes: “I am happily married 40 years old something mother of two. I have dark hair, olive skin and brown eyes. The rest is subject to change without notice.”
Asafu-Adjaye, J. (2009). Environmental economics for non economists: techniques and policies for sustainable development. (2nd ed.). Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co. Pty. Ltd.
Costanza, R., Cumberland, J., Daly, H., Goodland, R., & Norgaard, R. (1997). An introduction to Ecological Economics. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press.
Costanza, R., d’Arge, R., de Groot, R., Farber, S., Grasso, M., Hannon, B., . . . van den Belt, M. (1970). The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature, 387, 253 – 260.
Daly, H. E., & Farley, J. (2011). Ecological Economics (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Island Press.
Farmer, R. (Producer). (2010, 21 February 2012). How Economy Works. [Video Lecture] Retrieved 21 February 2012 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXxp4WO4cTw
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2006). Livestock’s Long Shadow. In Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (Ed.). Rome, Italy.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2011). The state of the world’s land and water resources for food and agriculture. Rome, Italy.
McTaggart, D., Findlay, C., & Parkin, M. (2003). Economics (4th ed.). Sydney, New South Wales: Pearson Education Australia Pty Ltd.
Pearce, D. W., & Warford, J. J. (1993). World without End; Economics, Environment and Sustainable Development. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.
Smith, A. (1776). The Weath of Nations: Random House, Inc.
United Nations (Producer). (2011, 21 February 2012). Branching out for a Green Economy. [Short Animaged Film] Retrieved 21 February 2012 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIknTqWNy9Y
United Nations Development Programme. (2010). The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development.
Waud, R. N., Hocking, A., Maxwell, P., & Bonnici, J. (1989). Economics (Australian ed.). New York, New York: Harper and Row Publishers Inc.