One of the challenges to sustainability is American culture's obsession with consumption. Why is this so? There is nothing endemic in the North American environment that caused this. Nothing in the customs that the original settlers or later immigrants brought to the US. Our culture of consumption has been shaped by corporations which, like any living organism, are simply trying to grow. The 170 billion dollar US advertising industry has, for decades, worked to modify your behavior in the interest of its corporate clients. Some examples follow.
"On the streets of early 20th Century America, nothing moved faster than 10 miles per hour. Responsible parents would tell their children, “Go outside, and play in the streets. All day.” And then the automobile happened. And then automobiles began killing thousands of children, every year."
"Automotive interests banded together under the name Motordom. One of Motordom’s public relations gurus was a man named E. B. Lefferts, who put forth a radical idea: don’t blame cars, blame human recklessness. Lefferts and Motordom sought to exonerate the machine by placing the blame with individuals."
"KAB worked diligently to ensure that waste was seen as a problem solved by improved individual responsibility, not stricter regulations or bottle bills. It even coined the term "litterbug" to identify the culprit - individuals. By spreading slogans like "people start pollution, people can stop it", KAB effectively shifted attention away from those who design, produce, market and profit from all the single-use disposable bottles and cans that were ending up in rivers and roadsides."
The Bliss Point and Vanishing Caloric Density
"Our limbic brains love sugar, fat, salt.… So formulate products to deliver these. Perhaps add low cost ingredients to boost profit margins. Then “supersize” to sell more.… And advertise/promote to lock in “heavy users.” —Bob Drane, former vice president for new business strategy and development at Oscar Mayer, quoted in Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (Random House, 2013)."
"The holy grail of junk-food science is vanishing caloric density, where the food melts in your mouth so quickly that the brain is fooled into thinking it’s hardly consuming any calories at all, so it just keeps snacking. In the process, packaged-food scientists want to avoid triggering sensory-specific satiety, the brain mechanism that tells you to stop eating when it has become overwhelmed by big, bold flavors. Instead, the real goals are either passive overeating, which is the excessive eating of foods that are high in fat because the human body is slow to recognize the caloric content of rich foods, or auto-eating: that is, eating without thinking or without even being hungry."
Take Back your Mind
- Maintain the status quo, blissfully moving along the current trajectory
- Rage against the machine, attacking big corporations
- Create a countervailing force that is equally funded, organized and connected
- Decrease consumption
- Buy stuff when we need it, not because we want it or because in our extra time we troll stores for stuff that might catch our interest or try to fill a void in our lives.
- Trade stuff with friends, buy it used, share it, and make it last longer.
- Buy things that are designed for disassembly
- Manage our information diet
- Ignore advertising. Rent DVDs instead of watching TV. Pay for Spottily or Pandora subscriptions, and download podcasts, rather than listening to the radio. Stop getting the newspaper and instead read articles online. Yes this, means paying for our media, but it also means regaining our free will.
- Work together to create a vision of the future
- The is one of the reasons I created Footptint USA - a simulation model that allows us to imagine the future, understanding the leverage points, and the tradeoffs involved in moving to a sustainable future.
- Make the future happen
- Over time, I hope to improve the simulation to model actions we can take to make the changes that we envision. The actions will have costs, unintended consequences, and will take time. Like learning anything, we need to experiment, practice, solve sample problems, and gradually increase our mastery until we're ready to engage the real world.
- data driven, to try to minimize assumption and bias.
- holistic, seeking to capture all the subsystem interactions and "externalities".
- interactive, allowing people to poke at it and see what happens.
- accessible - you don't need to be an expert n anything to use it (though you do need an iPad, at least for now).
- transparent - through this blog and documentation in the app, I an seeking to make clear exactly how it is implemented. I encourage people to ask questions, challenge my assumptions, and out any biases or inaccuracies I may have