$650 billion is spent using Visa cards in the United States every year. Nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population is overweight and about $12 trillion a year is spent by consumers for personal consumption. In 2000, Americans spent more than $110 billion on fast food. This is more than what is spent on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos and recorded music—combined. Author of Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser, proclaimed, “The whole experience of buying fast food has become so routine, so thoroughly unexceptional and mundane, that it is taken for granted, like brushing your teeth or stopping for a red light.” Consumption has become commonplace in America. It is almost looked upon as the right of an individual. Yet few stop to ask: Is mass consumption the right of the individual when it is predicted that the current patterns of economic and social development are not sustainable?
Not too long ago these facts and statistics about consumption would have seemed dull—just another set of quotes that fall into “the world is falling apart and coming to an end” bandwagon. However after almost a year of reflection, I have come to realize that not only is living a life of mass consumption detrimental to my generation, the earth and future generations, but mass consumption is something that is biblically erroneous.
[CONSUMING TO LIVE]
The movie titled Affluenza stated that Americans consume more than twice as much as they did in the ’50s, and since 1950 the world population has used more than everyone that came before. This is mass consumption. Robert Clapp suggested in his article, “Why the Devil takes Visa”, that there has been a “transformation from consuming to live to living to consume that has taken place in the last 100 years.”
Consuming to live is taking its toll on the United States as well as overseas. I recently found there would need to be two-and-a-half planets if everyone in the world were to live as I do. In fact, the average American consumes at a rate that would require four planets to sustain us. And it is no wonder as our options are limitless. We are provided an endless array of cereal, chips, meat, cheese and fruits at the grocery store. We are accustomed to our gas coming from Saudi Arabia and our clothes being from Indonesia. Anything from anywhere can be at our doorstep within seconds.
Among the symptoms of this consuming disease in the United States are the smoggy air people breathe in major cities from coast to coast, the large percentage of Americans that are overweight and the amount of concrete that covers cities. Or as Clapp put it: “There is no denying the murky brown clouds of smog hanging over Los Angeles, or Lake Michigan beaches closed to swimmers because of raw sewage seeping into the lake.” On a larger scale, most developed countries, especially those in the Northern hemisphere, consume more than the earth can sustain.
Somewhere along the line, commodity was turned into necessity. In my own life, I often think that an individual car, my own room, a pair of black and brown shoes and the option to fly home at Christmas are necessities. In reality, I know they are not, but so often in daily life, I find myself getting upset if I do not have certain conveniences. For instance, my computer got a virus and I was really frustrated with the idea of spending hours in the library writing papers; I even caught myself saying, “I need Microsoft word to work.” It is interesting to see the effects that culture has on my life even though I am a Christian. Luke 12:28 states, “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!” Why do I know this verse in my head, but cannot seem to execute it in everyday life? Why can I desire to be in the image of God, yet do things that hurt my relationship with others, God and the earth?
Simply put, it is the desire to be satisfied. Clapp declared, “The consumer is tutored that people basically consist of unmet needs that can be appeased by commodified goods and experiences … The consumer is taught to value above all else freedom, freedom defined as a vast array of choices.” Augustine renders this idea of consumer compulsions as a symptom of disordered desire, meaning that consuming can become an idol which the Bible speaks negatively about numerous times. For instance, Romans 1:22-23 states, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged glory of the immortal God for images.”
Not only is finding satisfaction in consuming considered idolatrous, but the Lord also talks about finding true satisfaction in Him. As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness (Psalms 17:15). This is played out in my life in a simple trip to the mall. At the mall, I see many things I want and think to myself, Oh that sweater is cute, I would love to have that sweater, and I bet I would feel happy if I buy that sweater. And so, I do and I may feel content for a split second, but that happiness is fleeting; my spirit is not full upon consuming. As the adage goes, desire can be more fun than gain. On the contrary, I find when I spend time worshiping the Lord or hanging out with friends or spending time in nature, I am filled with joy and peace for much longer. For me, even recycling becomes an act of worship because I am so excited about helping to preserve the earth.
[RENOUNCING “SATISFACTION”] Gandhi once stated that his secret to life in three words were: “Renounce and enjoy.” In a nutshell, renunciation of mass consumption is the best personal solution to the problem of environmental degradation. The UN Conference on Environment and Development proclaimed that, “To achieve sustainable development and a higher quality of life for all people, States should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and promote appropriate demographic policies.”
This idea of eliminating unsustainable patterns is the key way that individuals can make a difference. There are many ways to begin the process. Less than one percent of the Earth’s water is usable by humans, and the two dangers to this supply are: threatened supply, as is the case in the Middle East, and pollution. Pollution directly effects water and it kills off the irreplaceable oysters and mussels that naturally purifies water. This is just one area in which one could practice Gandhi’s secret to life. Creating less pollution can come in the form of riding a bike instead of driving a car, making sure the company you work for is environmentally friendly or not littering. Renunciation of old habits is the key.
We find another example in gas. By consuming the current amounts, we are emitting a mass amount of carbon dioxide into the air, which could cause unknowable consequences. More than 30 new diseases have been discovered since 1973 due to ecologically dangerous lifestyle. And cropland is being destroyed at an alarming rate due to overuse and harmful ecological substances. So renounce or as the famous Taoist thinker, Tao Te Ching, stated: “He who knows he has enough is rich.” Eat organic, recycle, ride a bike, walk, pick up litter, don’t buy more than you need and be realistic about needs. Go ahead and write a letter to your congressman to encourage environmentally friendly business practices within your city or state. Encourage your friends, family and coworkers to do the same.
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