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REL 0811 (6)
Lecture 6

REL 0811 Lecture 6: Let’s stop hiding behind recycling and be honest about consumption

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Temple University
REL 0811
Travis Navarro Travis

Lets stop hiding behind recycling and be honest about consumption We have offshored the problem of escalating consumption, and our perceptions of it, by considering only territorial emissions Every society has topics it does not discuss. These are the issues which challenge its comfortable assumptions. They are the ones that remind us of mortality, which threaten the continuity we anticipate, which expose our various beliefs as irreconcilable. Among them are the facts which sink the cosy assertion, that (in David Cameron's words) "there need not be a tension between green and growth". At a reception in London recently I met an extremely rich woman, who lives, as most people with similar levels of wealth do, in an almost comically unsustainable fashion: jetting between various homes and resorts in one long turbo-charged holiday. When I told her what I did, she responded: "Oh I agree, the environment is so important. I'm crazy about recycling." But the real problem, she explained, was "people breeding too much". I agreed that population is an element of the problem, but argued that consumption is rising much faster and unlike the growth in the number of people is showing no signs of levelling off. She found this notion deeply offensive: I mean the notion that human population growth is slowing. When I told her that birth rates are dropping almost everywhere, and that the world is undergoing a slow demographic transition, she disagreed violently: she has seen, on her endless travels, how many children "all those people have". As so many in her position do, she was using population as a means of disavowing her own impacts. The issue allowed her to transfer responsibility to others: people at the opposite end of the economic spectrum. It allowed her to pretend that her shopping and flying and endless refurbishments of multiple homes are not a problem. Recycling and population: these are the amulets people clasp in order not to see the clash between protecting the environment and rising consumption. In a similar way, we have managed, with the help of a misleading global accounting system,tooverlookoneofthegravestimpactsofourconsumption.Thistoohasallowed us to blame foreigners particularly poorer foreigners for the problem. When nations negotiate global cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, they are held responsible only for the gases produced within their own borders. Partly as a result of this convention, these tend to be the only ones that countries count. When these "territorialemissionsfall,theycongratulatethemselvesonreducingtheir carbon footprints. But as markets of all kinds have been globalised, and as manufacturing migrates from rich nations to poorer ones, territorial accounting bears
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