Putting teeth into anti-consumerism

BBC News has an article about the Stern Review which predicts the following issues if action is not taken now:

  • Melting glaciers will increase flood risk
  • Crop yields will decline, particularly in Africa
  • Rising sea levels could leave 200 million people permanently displaced
  • Up to 40% of species could face extinction
  • There will be more examples of extreme weather patterns

What we can do

  • Reduce consumer demand for heavily polluting goods and services
  • Make global energy supply more efficient
  • Act on non-energy emissions - preventing further deforestation would go a long way towards alleviating this source of carbon emissions
  • Promote cleaner energy and transport technology, with non-fossil fuels accounting for 60% of energy output by 2050

Wise consumption is not only good for your soul, but it's practical, too. The problem does indeed begin with consumers not being aware of the impact of their consumption on the world. This is because of how divorced they are from the source of the elements in what they are buying. Where does the plastic come from? The paper? The metal? Where do they come from? What is the by product created by the factory?

One excellent move would be to encourage more factory production and raw-material harvesting here. This would save shipping costs. It would provide low-skilled jobs to those that need them. It would also force us to tackle the ugliness of consumption because production would be occuring right in our backyard. Let's face it, wealthy people love to export the dirty work; it happens on a personal level (dry-cleaners, car-wash, body shop) and it also happens on a global level.

The juggernaught of capitalism will not turn on a dime. It will be hard for distributors and retailers to find alternatives to China, India, and Brazil for their wares. But I truly do not understand why an American can't go into a Target, pick out any item on the shelves, and go start a factory that produces a better version for less right here.

The answer is too often dismissed as "wages are so much less over there". But there is also the issue of complexity: there are many rules and regulations that must be complied with. Enforcing those rules and regulations takes time. Just building a structure can take months waiting for plans to be approved by a county or city. Then there are byzantine laws that govern salaries, etc. All of this complexity takes intelligent specialists to handle, each of which costs a great deal of money to hire.

I propose a reality-TV experiment to do just that: grab an American entrepenuer or two and tell them to go into a Wall-Mart or Target and pick an item. Give them some money and let them attempt to compete with the Chinese supplier. See if it can be done.

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