5) Jan. 21 Causes: Consumerism
Durning,Alan (1992). "Chapter 1: The Conundrum of Consumption; Chapter 2: The Consumer
Society." How Much is Enough? New York: W.W. Norton. pp. 19-36.
Kates, Robert W. (2000). "Population and Consumption: What We Know, What We Need to
Know." Environment. Vol 42, No 3,April 10 - 19.
The Jan. 21 and 23 lectures are closely related because they are both aspects of theAin the
I=PxAxT formula. For both lectures, you need to understand my picture of the production
process (the way society produces material goods).
. labour production (eg in the factory) demand (eg buyer)
. material inputs
Demand is the key factor. The capitalist system cannot function without demand, which is one
reason consumerism is so important as a cause of the environmental problem.
You also need to understand my definitions of each of the following:
. state = human relations based on authority (state holds coercive force, ie, can use law to
put a citizen in jail); government is the dominant organization
. market = human relations based on the buy-sell contract (you give me $54.27, I will
give you this ENV222 course reader); the firm (business corporation) is the dominant
. civil society = human relations based on kinship (family), trust, love, hate; church,
university, soccer clubs, etc are the dominant organizations; but also characterized by social
groupings, eg Catholics, Muslims, environmentalists, students
1. Definition of "consumerism"
1.1 Physical definition
. see reader pp 103-104; "transformation of materials and energy"
. generally we apply the term to individual humans buying products which have been created by
extracting resources, manufacturing, transporting and when no longer need the product becomes
waste and is returned to nature
1.2 Sociological definition
. as an "ism" consumerism is also an ideology, a set of values (buying is good because it
stimulates the economy); reader p. 92 "full flowering of a new form of human society: the
. a consumer society has as a major goal buying more products; reader p. 97 1953 purpose of
American economy "to produce more consumer goods"; George W. Bush after Sept. 11, 2001
attacks, urgedAmericans to "go shopping"
. in a consumer society, people have adopted the self-definition as "consumer" instead of
Note that we are talking about material consumption (physical matter, such as wood, metal or
grain in the form of products (chair, car, bread). The economy also places monetary value on
consumption of services (eg, a haircut, advice from a lawyer, a university lecture). We need to
distinguish the two since one solution to the problem of consumerism is to shift from
consumption of material products to non-material consumption (eg, reading or writing a poem)
to derive pleasure. See discussion of decarbonization and dematerialization, p. 105.
2. Who consumes?
. the Global North, more than the South; reader p. 95 Table 2-1
. within any country, the rich more than the poor
. NB: not just individuals; organizations, eg governments, firms, universities, consume on a
3. Consumerism as a cause of the environmental problem
3.1 Physical problem
. resource extraction:
. land impacts, habitat loss, eg mining and connecting roads
. pollution, eg mining, tailing ponds; natural gas fracking
. fossil fuel energy used in forestry, mining, oil and gas extraction
. pollution and waste from by-products
. fossil fuel energy used
. land/habitat fragmented, biodiversity impacts
. fossil fuel energy used
. solid waste
. land used for disposal