Watch UK Channel 5. Tuesday 10th April 2007 7.15 – 8.00 pm
Big Ideas that Changed the World – Consumerism
This programme sees Jonathon Porritt examine consumerism. Porritt argues that consumerism a subject that is never far from the headlines today, has a dark and destructive side and is in danger of destroying the planet.
This thought provoking mainstream article from The Observer interviews Jonathon Porritt, co-founder of the Green Party and former chairman of Friends of the Earth on consumerism.
... Jonathon Porritt, the government's green guru, says consumerism is now a lethal disease. David Smith reports
'Many big ideas have struggled over the centuries to dominate the planet,' begins the argument by Jonathon Porritt, government adviser and all-round environmental guru.
'Fascism. Communism. Democracy. Religion. But only one has achieved total supremacy. Its compulsive attractions rob its followers of reason and good sense. It has created unsustainable inequalities and threatened to tear apart the very fabric of our society. More powerful than any cause or even religion, it has reached into every corner of the globe. It is consumerism.'
According to Porritt, the most senior adviser to the government on sustainability, we have become a generation of shopaholics. We are bombarded by advertising from every medium which persuades us that the more we consume, the better our lives will be. Shopping is equated with fun, fulfilment and self-identity. It is also, Porritt warns, killing the planet. He argues, in an interview with The Observer, that merely switching to 'ethical' shopping is not enough. We must shop less.
Porritt, chairman of the government's Sustainable Development Commission, has concluded that consumerism is central to the threat facing the planet, cannibalising its natural resources and producing the carbon dioxide emissions which result in climate change.
In a film for Channel Five, he points out that Britons throw away their own body weight in rubbish every seven weeks, with 100 million tonnes of waste pouring into the country's 12,000 landfill sites every year. If all six billion people in the world were to consume at the same level, we would need two new Earths to supply all the energy, soil, water and raw materials required.
'I think capitalism is patently unable to go on growing the size of the consumer economy for any more people in the world today because levels of consumption are already undermining life support systems on which we depend - so if we do it for any more people, the planet will go pop,' Porritt told The Observer. 'So in a way we don't have a choice about this: we've got to rethink the basic premise behind capitalism to make it deliver the goods. In the long run, when you really look at what happens on a planet with nine billion people and really serious constraints on the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that we can emit, it's almost inevitable we will learn to have more elegant, satisfying lives, consuming less. I can't see any way out of that in the long run.'
It was disappointing to see the article veer towards 'caring mini-ad for Tescos' territory, who named their carrier bag scheme as meaningful "environmentally aware/anti-waste" action, rather than challenging Tesco on their obscene air-freight imports of out-of-season organic produce from South America and UK grown veg now being flown to low-waged packing factories in Eastern Europe before being flown back to UK for sale in UK supermarkets. It would have been heartening to see the journalist challenge supermarket giant Tesco over their claim to be 'environmentally aware' when they label freighted food 'organic' and also destroy the environment to build their new stores (see SchNews report below). The Tescopoly Alliance has revealed that how Tesco's massive market power is having serious consequences for suppliers, farmers, overseas workers, local shops and the environment.
SchNews 2: Every Little Hurts
Watch these: Supermarket Secrets (2 part documentary) and Store Wars