It is the 27th of January, and I have some reason to celebrate. Today marks the first day in my brand new Moleskine calendar, and I can start using it. I have been waiting for a month, at least. If I took my financial situation seriously, things like these would probably be exactly what I should spend less money on. On the other hand 15 EUR can seem cheap for something that is used 365 days in a year. But there are bigger problems than my private budget. Vanity like this is choking the earth to death.
By Zedlik (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
More people live more comfortable than ever, which is a good thing, and we can thank capitalism and consumerism for that. Our civlisation is heavily dependent on an ever increasing group of consumers, and that is why it makes consumers out of substistence farmers with an amazing speed. Few people miss the toil of their parents. This is a great world. But can not claim that we save it for our children.
The climate is changing, making it harder to survive. Especially for those mentioned above, who just have put poverty behind. To future generations we hand over a more densly populated world with less natural resources, less arable land, less water, less biodiversity. Technology will maybe help them survive another year, but if the long time trend is not reversed, there is simply no future for humanity. Which will probably be great for the few species that will remain on earth after we have gone.
This time of year the newpapers are filled with analyzes of 2010 and forecasts for 2011. If you look at economical history, anyone will tell yo that the supply of natural resources is pivotal for human economy. Yet almost no economical forecast, positive or negative, take the diminshing supply of natural resources into account when they predict the future. Economists seem to presume that the earth will look thes same in 2011 as it did in 2010, when the only thing we know is that it will not. Which is why they are always wrong.
Our outtake of natural resources is megalomaniacal - in a time when close to everyone speaks about the environment, and green entrepeneurs spawn as mushrooms from the ground. The problem with these entrepeneurs is not what they do, but what they do not do. As long as green consumerism doesn't make us consume less, it achieves nothing. It is our endless hunger for stuff and services that keeps chinese coal heated factories running and fossil fuel trucks rolling on our highways. For those of you who haven't seen it , I warmly recommend Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff, for a witty explanation of how our consumption impoversihes the earth.
The problem is that consumerism does not only impoverish the earth, it also enrichen us in terms of money and wealth. With our current economical thinking that wealth is the quantitative sigen of wellbeing we are forced to choose between the generation currently living in wealth, and the unborn millions. And it would be deeply unmoral to pritoritize the welfare of a human being that doesn't exist, over one that exists here and now.
Maybe this is why it is so hard to break with consumerism, even though we all know that it is the root of all our problems? Or maybe it is because consumerism speaks to our human weaknesses rather than our morals. I could well have made my own calendar out of recycled paper, but it was unrestricted vanity that made me buy a Moleskine calendar instead. That was my contribution to a shopping spree that is bound to end in chaos.
What we need is a way of understanding economics that can differentiate between wealth and wellbeing. With a such understanding falling profits, or falling GDP wouldn't be a problem at in it self, since that could just as well indicate that we manage to live well with less money, as economic problems. But to get there, we must get over our vanity.