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Citizens vs Consumers

Dear Reader,

I am under no illusion that a simple lifestyle is a powerful, world changing political act. I do not believe that my bicycle or compost heap will save the planet. But we are not one person.

We are taught from the moment of birth that we are unique, special individuals working towards individual goals that revolve around power, freedom, happiness and wealth, we are taught to amass possessions and savings, buy big houses and shiny cars, taught that this is the only way the world could possibly function, that we have come so far and must never look back. This all puts us in necessary competition with other humans and with the planet. We must fight against others and work to control and subdue the natural world. In participating in this model, we are left blind to the potential of the joy that could exist, to the harmony we could create with all living systems. Our options are narrowed to a tiny spectrum of the true possibilities available to us, we are left-wing, or we are right-wing, and that option appears to be the depth of choice in our political society. However, the options on the functioning of our society are in fact limitless, we simply need to look outside the box, to think beyond our normalised politics.

Opting out is no option, choosing not to participate is regularly mocked as lazy or youthful rebellion, electing to live with little money is to avoid taxes (while those with all the wealth need not pay them anyway), to no longer be a participating member of society. To grow my own food makes me alternative, to use a compost loo that doesn’t waste drinking water and creates healthy soil is considered dirty or weird. Does a simple lifestyle honestly make me the mad one? Does this really sound like a move away from progress or could it be an alternate form of progression? Do we truly live in a modern, progressive and just society when the 85 richest people have more wealth than the poorest 3.5 billion but are still not full of happiness and love? When we have unnecessarily degraded the vast majority of the wilderness? Surely, we should be in a better state than this. Our society is ‘founded on the existence and persistence of consumption and consumption implies depletion, which implies production, which implies waste or pollution’ (p. 71). All this destruction- driving nature to extinction, losing our compassion for the people of forgotten countries left in ruin, all for a false progress based on an illusory debt-based economy. The problems are real, yet the benefits are lies.

We have been demoted, robbed of our status as citizens with innate value, disregarded as human beings, human animals, as part of the planetary ecosystem, as members of caring communities and proud nations and left to fight as angry individuals, made to believe that participation means nothing more than earning, spending and an occasional vote with limited choices. We are the winners when we drive a sports car and there is nothing worse than being a loser in this society, we are told how successful we are based purely on our salaries, on our material extravagance and thus moral integrity sinks to unnecessary behaviour, oversensitivity or even weakness. We have fallen for it. We have traded our citizenship to become consumers, made into individuals rather than member of communities. How can we fight a system that is broken, question the reason for our discontent, stop the destruction of our beautiful planet as individuals? We cannot. This is precisely the reason that the wild world is crumbling, we have lost sight of the truth- we are not individuals, we are a community, part of the earths biosphere, members of the visible universe’s greatest wonder, yet we are locked into a battle to be the best (consumers) we can be and thus we individuals do not stand a chance against those who have designed it this way.

Should we continue as we are? For what purpose? The Planet is dying, we are killing it along with our sense of deep purpose, of spiritual connection to land and to people. We are not to be blamed as individuals; we are currently just the consuming mouth of the system. It is this system that is the destroyer and must be questioned, revealed, modified and reconstructed based on new values. GDP is simply not the correct measurement of progress as it can grow alongside crime rates, failing education systems, disappearing health care, increased racism, hunger, depression, heart attacks and knife crime. It also, importantly, fails to value nonpaid work- stay at home parents, helping the elderly or sick, starting a community garden and countless other pursuits that make a great society. In a system valued on its economic progression, time spent this way is not considered work, it is just for a kind few who find spare time to volunteer. This way, the GDP obsession, the money-based economy, is not working, the plan has failed. If the current model were successful then few would be starving, few would be homeless, few would be depressed, few would feel hopeless, few would be addicted, few would be angry- these are the promises of the system but today we see these promises have been distractions. Whether for eco or ego centric reasons, we must save the planet that we share and therefore we must change the system. We must take back our citizenship and throw our consumer status away. This means changes, real, grand, difficult changes, way beyond bicycles or compost heaps. Ignore the cries that capitalism is the only way, no amount of green consumerism can save us. It is true that communism, socialism and fascism are failed experiments, but how have we come to believe that we are therefore out of options? A Green Future is not one that only cares about the environment. It is one that cares deeply about us humans too, its aims do not ignore people but consider them deeply, they seek ways to incorporate humans with meaningful purpose in the whole world system. A wonderful quote from the book Green Political Thought by Andrew Dobson tells us that ‘judged by illusory standards of wealth we might well be ‘poorer’ in a Green future- but we would, in reality, have a higher standard of living, better food, healthier bodies, rewarding work, good companionship, cleaner air, greater self-reliance, more supportive communities and, above all, a safer world to live in’ (p. 73). These are the measurements of progress we should begin to consider and to reach such a state we must radically change the way we live, our expectations from life and our participation in society and we must do it together.

Consumer capitalism, neoliberalism, the world economy; these are fictional stories. We must close the book and begin to write a new one. We no longer believe the myth, we know it is not working, it is obvious, we are simply unsure where to begin, how to write the first page, but this is always the hardest part in any new story. My story starts with a bicycle and a compost heap, I hope it ends in a world where we stop being consumers and become valuable human citizens in a respected, diverse planetary ecosystem.

Love Ben

Quotes from Green Political Thought by Andrew Dobson, Routledge; 4th edition 2007. Andrew Dobson

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Alexandra Stopford
Alexandra Stopford
Oct 13, 2019

This is your most powerful yet, I agree with everything that you say and think what is required is a massive amount of education trying to change people's mind sets, to get them to see that sometimes a simple life is the most fulfilling of all, and that if we're part of a community we're really living life. It's a big ask, but as you say, if we all play our part it can be done.

I like this quote from Mother Theresa: 'I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters, to create many ripples...' If we all cast that stone, we can save our beautiful, beautiful world.


Nice piece Ben. Thank you. I like the valuable re-definitions of wealth and poverty. I shall use these from now on...

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