By Roland Watson
To understand and control our consumption, there are two basic activist approaches that we can use. The first is to confront the suppliers, the companies involved; and the second is to confront the consumers, in other words, us.
For the companies, the production input determination and labeling issues that I described in the last article are actually an extension of the problem of calculating social costs. They are in fact the specific issues that must be considered to accomplish such a calculation. Companies must be encouraged, as under the auspices of the executive responsible for risk management, to track all of their inputs, including not only their financial costs (which are already measured), but their social and environmental costs as well.
And, the latter must be identified on the products themselves, to give us the basis that we need to make our choices. In other words, we need to develop a system of social accounting which measures the real costs of production inputs, and which also collects other relevant information, including the following:
- Were they sustainably extracted?
- Was there any environmental damage that accompanied the extraction?
- Are they recyclable, or "one use only"?
- If they are recyclable, did this actually occur? Were the inputs used to make the product recycled from a prior use?
- To what extent are global stores of the production inputs being depleted?
- And, what were the working conditions of the employees involved in all of the stages of the production process? Did such conditions meet a civilized standard?
Most companies, of course, will be loathe to collect and provide this information, so the burden again shifts to us. And here, we must force the companies to meet their responsibilities by patronizing only those that do, such as "green" merchants. Through doing this, we should be able to drive the others to accommodate us as well. (The label "organic" applies to foods that have not been sourced from factory farms - "death factories," and that have been produced without the use of genetic engineering in any form, and also pesticides, herbicides, chemical and sewage sludge fertilizers, growth hormones, antibiotics, animal by-products which are used as animal feed - this was the cause of mad-cow disease in Europe, irradiation, artificial colors and flavors, and preservatives.)
As to our own consumption, to the extent that you can you should simplify your life. Consume as little technology as possible; work towards achieving self-sufficiency; and buy only green and organic. Also, to the extent that you are willing, become a vegan or a vegetarian.
Actually, you should assume the responsibility for your consumption to a far greater extent than this, and the way to do it is to prepare a consumption analysis and budget. For the analysis, you want to identify everything that you buy, use and consume, and their underlying components and ingredients, including the materials, production facilities, energy and labor that were required. One approach to this is to cross-reference two sets of categories: how much you consume of different classes of goods and services; and in the different major areas of your life. The latter includes (1) consumption for your basic existence (at home), including by other people such as family members who are dependent on you or with whom you are closely associated; (2) for your employment (at work); and (3) for any other activities that you pursue - what you do for enjoyment and additional education (at play).
The different classes of goods and services include:
- Premises: list all the structures and facilities that you use, including your house or apartment, at work, for travel, and for other activities including dining, shopping, entertainment and education. What types of materials were used in their construction, and what were the sources of these materials?
- Water: how much water do you use, and from what sources?
- Transport: how many miles do you travel, on foot, by bicycle, and in different types of motorized vehicles, both public and private?
- Energy: how much energy do you consume, directly and indirectly, for such premises, transport and activities? What are the sources of this energy: petroleum and natural gas, including jet fuel; coal; nuclear; hydro; alternative sources such as solar energy and wind power; and the burning of wood?
- Food: What is your overall caloric consumption? How much of what you eat do you grow versus buy; is consumed at home versus in a restaurant; is organic and fresh versus factory produced and frozen or processed; and is a meat or some other animal product?
- Other products: what is your general level of consumption and materialism? How much clothing do you have, and "gear"?
- Waste management: how much waste and garbage do you produce; how much is recycled; and how is the rest disposed of?
Regarding the budget, you want to make a plan to reduce this consumption, particularly of non-sustainable resources. Your overall goal is to have the least possible impact. Also, you want to eliminate from your consumption all unethical items, including such things as nuclear power; genetically-engineered products; products made using other undesirable technologies; goods the research or production of which involved animal exploitation, or any endangered species; animal products in general; and goods which were produced with child or other exploited labor.
One other way to consider this is that your consumption reflects your degree of social conformity. You can use your budget to calculate your Conformity Index, what percentage of your spending is consistent with social norms. In other words, you can evaluate the extent to which you support such social conventions, versus the degree to which you are a real non-conformist.
© Roland Watson 2016