Let’s Talk About the Elephant in the Room – The Consumer Economy

Yes, the consumer economy.  It doesn’t get mentioned at all when discussing the solutions to the climate crisis.  Well, in some ways it does in the form of reducing personal consumption.  And, truthfully, it wasn’t always in my mind either.  I was still focusing on changing our lifestyle as a way to avert the climate crisis after the college class, Environmental Sociology, that I took in 2009.  The main culprit is burning all those fossil fuels, and we use that for all of our energy needs.  I say oil runs everything . . . and it does.

The main climate crisis solution is the focus on switching to renewable energy in the form of solar, wind, geothermal, etc.  That is a major step in the right direction.  Using energy to create solar panels that soak up sun for some 30 years beats out endlessly digging up coal and fracking for naturel gas to burn for electricity hands down.  Although, everything has its environmental cost.

Jason Hickel, wrote the article “The Limits of Clean Energy,” in Foreign Policy, September 6, 2019.  Let’s think again before we dig another big hole for renewable energy.  It is a better source of energy but it is not without its consequences.  I highly recommend reading it.  The link is attached below.

The enormity of the climate crisis and how the consumer economy contributes to it would send me sobbing in hysterical grief and hopelessness after that class.  I would envision it as a huge locomotive with CEOs as the engineers with profits and endless growth gleaming in their eyes.  We, the consumers, were the passengers screaming “yahoo” at the thought of our next big screen TV, all-inclusive cruise ship vacation, new car, etc.  We were a package deal.  No way was that locomotive going to be stopped . . . and it was flying down a hill at top speed.

I want that vision in everyone’s head.  I hear people whine, “I can’t give up this or that.”  People . . . this is a life and death situation.  And, until Mainstream America gets that . . . they will be watching football, eating barbeque chicken wings, and shopping for that new car, not really understanding how the climate crisis is really an . . . EMERGENCY.

How do we get there?  Hmmm . . . maybe you can tell me.

Somewhere after that class, I had the embodied energy moment.  I don’t think there was a chapter or any mention of it in the class.  I think once you start looking at everything you do and buy as carbon, embodied energy just naturally comes along.  And, if you don’t understand embodied energy, it will be a giant leap to why degrowth is one of the best solutions.  But, as a dear friend says, “There is no silver bullet for the climate crisis, only silver buckshot.”

For a reminder here, infinite growth on a finite planet is not possible.

Embodied energy is all the energy it takes to produce a product, provide a service, etc.  For instance, there may be 8-10 factories or processes to produce a box of raisin bran.  And, all those manufacturing plants and processes are spewing fossil fuels into the air. 

Can’t we all just eat oatmeal?

There are ramifications for all our choices.  Take biofuels for instance.  Do we want to use the land to grow food and eat or fuel our cars?  Solar arrays?  Again, do we want to eat or turn on the lights?  CAFOS, which stands for Confined Animal Feeding Operations, provide about 99% of the meat and dairy consumed.  Regenerative agriculture and open grazing will help our soil but do we have enough land to have some billions of animals openly grazing.  Hmmm.  Possibly, if we get rid of all the corn and soy fields.  I don’t know.

Back to degrowth.  Now that is definitely not brought up at anyone’s dinner table.  It is not even Mainstream anything.  I never get it in my Google news feed . . . and Google does a fine job of sending me everything on the climate crisis.  And, I can’t really say when I took that next step from solar on the house to . . . no, we don’t need raisin bran and most every aisle in the grocery store. 

Yes, solar on the roof is a good solution to address the climate crisis but we get a bigger bang for our buck by reducing all the pollution from eliminating all the stuff we can be happy without.

Richard Smith wrote a great article called, “Climate Crisis, the Deindustrialization Imperative and the Jobs vs. Environment Dilemma,” in Truthout, November 12, 2014, which I have talked about before and have attached below.  I highly recommend reading his article because he gets why we need degrowth.

It really isn’t any wonder why no one brings it up as a climate crisis solution because that would mean dismantling . . . oh, yes . . . capitalism and the consumer economy.  How do you tell X, Y, and Z company you have to go?  How do you tell people they can’t have raisin bran and pet costumes anymore, let alone go on that fabulous cruise ship vacation with the endless food buffets and coconut margaritas?

He also wrote the book “Less is More: How Degrowth will Save the World.”  It is a great book but I think his solutions will take too long.  Some of his ideas are to get rid of planned obsolescence, no more advertising, a debt jubilee, and others.

Hey, that debt jubilee is great because we all have debt . . . we have to work to live.  Along the way, we are convinced to buy shiny objects so we have more debt and have to work even more.  That’s why this is such a sticky mess.  CEOs want more profits, and we have debt and want more stuff.

So, degrowth is a tough one.  Again, how do we get there?  We can’t afford to dig more holes for resources to manufacture more products, even for solar and battery storage.  We need to eat and need the biodiversity we are endlessly destroying.

Remember the movie, The Lorax, where they lived in that bubble with fake trees . . . actually, everything was fake.  We are almost there today, where you have to visit Nature . . . if you live in any type of metro area of any major city.  There is no Nature there.  Ok, you may have some grass.  We haven’t gotten to fake trees yet.  In time.  And those corn and soy fields . . . that isn’t Nature either.

There has to be some kind of monetary incentive to get to degrowth.  And, I have a solution.  Warning, I am going to go down some political rabbit hole here.

Just recently, our US corporate/political machine we call a government passed a close to a trillion-dollar military budget.  Hey, forget about addressing the climate crisis, having decent healthcare, free college, stopping mass incarceration, addressing all the excrement from CAFOs from the billions of animals, etc.  The military machine would rather use our tax dollars to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia and other countries to kill women and children or create more wars to go to.  The US has some 750+ bases around the world, and some 6,000 nuclear warheads that can destroy the world.  Isn’t that enough for them?

The incentive I mentioned for Degrowth could come from divvying up that trillion-dollar military budget to everyone in the US.  I know it is a crazy pipe dream . . . but come on . . . can you really argue that it doesn’t sound good?  That money could be used to help the people of the US. There would be some left in that budget to keep the lights on in all those 750 bases.

You can tell me I am full of beans, which I am as a vegetarian, but . . . I think it is an awesome idea!

Degrowth.  Bring it up at the dinner table.

Richard Smith, “Climate Crisis, the Deindustrialization Imperative and the Jobs vs. Environment Dilemma,” Truthout, November 12, 2014.



Jason Hickel, “The Limits of Clean Energy,” Foreign Policy, September 6, 2019


Jason Hickel, “Less is More:  How Degrowth Will Save the World” London: Penguin Random House, 2021


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