PE Spring '04: Waking Up In The Consumer Paradise
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Contents (with summaries of articles) of Pacific Ecologist, issue 9 - spring 2004
less & less resources…
Our global economic system and societies are sustained by finite fossil fuel resources, writes PETER NORTH and oil production is due to peak within the next ten years. Yet instead of conserving the vital resources, fossil fuel use continues to increase. Many are aware of the increasing price of fuel for motor cars, but most people seem unaware of our wider dependence on fossil fuels for food production, plastics, pharmaceuticals, synthetic rubber, textiles, automobiles, packaging, building, construction, electronics, general manufacturing etc. Society urgently needs to develop a plan for survival to deal with relinquishing dependence on fossil fuels. Every day no action is taken narrows the window of opportunity.
Overuse and abuse of the earth’s limited resources has reached a critical stage, posing many serious threats for humanity, 2003-2004 President of the Institute for Professional Engineers NZ, GERRY TE KAPA COATES explains. We must take immediate and ongoing corrective action over the next decades following principles of sustainability to have any chance of turning the situation around. Engineers have a key role to play in persuading humanity and decision-makers to change direction to prevent collapse.
PETER NORTH points out the faults in the claims of economists, industrialists and governments that economic growth is good for the environment. The idea technology will solve the problems caused by economic growth is not shared by technologists or scientists. There is no magic technological fix to solve climate change, storage of radioactive and solid waste, salinity, expanding deserts, or declining resources. Economic growth continues to be promoted and the environment continues to deteriorate. When will governments act?
more & more waste…
Rubbish barely existed on Pacific Islands until the last 30 years, reports CHRIS PETERU. But with the recent influx of consumer goods the region's communities are battling to preserve their health, lands and homes from rapidly accumulating solid and organic wastes. Waste is a big problem on many small islands with little space for dumps or landfills. Collective, regional action is needed to prevent a large-scale ecological disaster.
Communities everywhere, small and large, are battling with ever-increasing mountains of packaging waste, ENVISION-NEW ZEALAND reports. Industry is now producing new types of packaging like plastic drink bottles that are impossible to recycle, but is not being held responsible for their disposal. While some countries are regulating to reduce waste, for example, banning plastic bags, why has the NZ government recently entered into a second voluntary packaging agreement with industry, when the first one failed?
Local government in Australia has refused to sign the National Packaging Covenant, as it does not encourage waste reduction or industry accountability, PETER WOODS reports. Industry is happy with the situation whereby it’s subsidised to foist ever-increasing quantities of single-use containers and worthless packaging on the community, knowing most will end up on foreshores or as landfill. Yet in South Australia, a cost-effective deposit and refund on drink containers, achieves returns of 85-90%. To save the environment, reduce waste and costs ,producers must be made responsible for their products
DR ZOHL DÉ ISHTAR celebrates the great victory on 14 July 2004 of the campaign, lead by Aboriginal women elders to stop nuclear waste being dumped in their desert homelands in South Australia. No one wants the hazards of nuclear waste in their environment. The challenge now is to stop production of nuclear waste, close nuclear power stations and uranium mines and find a safe way of dealing with thousands of drums of radioactive toxic waste already produced.
The overwhelming majority of the world's hazardous waste is generated by industrialized market economies. Exporting this waste to less developed countries has been a way the industrialised world has avoided having to deal with the problem of expensive disposal and close public scrutiny at home. An alarming 50 to 80 percent of American E-waste destined for “recycling” actually becomes global toxic trade, reports BASEL ACTION NETWORK.
BAN fears toxic mobile phone waste is already on the move from rich to poor countries. Two independent studies funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the State of California, reveal obsolete or non-working mobile phones qualify as hazardous waste even with their batteries removed. The toxicity is due to the use of the toxic metal lead in the phones and their propensity to leach the lead content when deposited in a municipal landfill. The Basel Action Network (BAN), a global toxic trade watchdog, made the investigation into emerging toxicity data and released it in a short report, after the Basel Convention mobile phones corporate partnership program indicated it would refuse to address the question.
SHARON BEDER explores the history of consumer societies from the 1920s when over-production of goods exceeded demand. Instead of stabilising the economy, reducing working hours, and sharing work around, which would have brought more leisure time for all, industrialists decided to expand markets by promoting consumerism to the working classes. The social decision to produce unlimited quantities of goods rather than leisure, nurtured wastefulness, obsolescence, and inefficiency and created the foundation for our modern consumer culture. People were trained to be both workers and consumers in a culture of work and spend. Consumption was promoted through advertising as a “democracy of goods” and used to pacify political unrest among workers. With the help of marketers and advertisers exploiting the idea of consumer goods as status symbols, workers were manipulated into being avaricious consumers who could be trusted “to spend more rather than work less.” But if we admired wisdom above wealth, and compassion and cooperation above competition, we could undermine the motivation to consume.
two country reports
2001-2004 has been the worst period in Mexico’s economic history since the Great Depression, ALLAN S. MILLER writes. After decades of free-market policies, unemployment exceeds 50% and 70% of the population live in poverty. Thousands of foreign-owned companies produce the goods the global consumer society wants, like cheap cell phones, clothing, tvs, and cars. But workers toil for low wages, unions are outlawed, environmental regulations and health and safety standards are ignored. More than 200,000 jobs were recently lost when factories relocated to China and increasing numbers of Mexican workers die attempting to cross the border to find employment in the U.S.
The global economic system is facilitating the rapid dismantling of industrial capacity in developed countries in favour of building China's, WARREN SNOW reports. But who is counting the real cost of the cheap products on China's people and environment, on local economies around the world and ultimately on the cost of living for everyone?
On 22/9/04 CHRISTOPHER FLAVIN, of the Worldwatch Institute addressed a committee of the U.S. House of representatives on China’s environmental crisis and the challenge both China and the United States face to develop new technologies, consumption patterns and policies to make a sustainable future possible.
Huge ecological destruction, Third World poverty, resource depletion, conflict and social breakdown are caused by the affluence of the consumer society, TED TRAINER notes. To survive we must shift to simpler lifestyles, and more self-sufficient and co-operative ways. The alternative society could be easily and quickly established and we would improve our quality of life with much reduced production and consumption. The change in lifestyle will liberate people from slavery to the consumer society, enabling more time for more fulfilling activities than earning money.