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OK so you’ve thought about the energy to run your home, and your personal transport, and you’ve started sorting your rubbish for recycling. But what about all those lorries, ships, factories, mines, loggers and waste incinerators working to make all the stuff you buy? What about all the energy and other materials used to manufacture all those convenient food and drink products that fill our supermarket shelves? And what about the trawlers that scrape all life from the ocean bed causing massive damage to sea-life and irreversible decline in fish stocks?

It is no accident that resourcefulness, making your own, buying secondhand and make-do-and-mend are starting to be fashionable again. Or that celebrities are getting interested in allotments, tap water and real food produced locally. It has taken three decades of investigative journalism and environmental campaigning, plus destruction levels that are no longer possible to ignore, to get to the stage where everyone is realising that we need to do things differently.

Here are a few facts;

  • of all consumer goods bought in North America only 1% are still in use 6 months after they were sold, the remaining 99% have become rubbish
  • of food produced in the UK around 50% gets thrown away
  • after the second world war advertisers in North America exhorted people to consume for the sake of the economy, with slogans like “Buy now – the job you save may be your own”
  • manufacturers in the 1950s and 1960s developed the notion of ‘planned obsolescence’ (goods designed to break so they need to be replaced frequently) and ‘perceived obsolescence’ (if you convince consumers that old goods are unfashionable then they will buy new ones whether they need them or not)
  • every year because of intensive farming techniques we lose another 24 billion tons of top soil and create 15 million acres of new desert
  • the area that is usable for food production is only 3.5% of the planet’s surface, it used to be 6%
  • due to overfishing 90% of edible fish stocks are now gone, so factory fishing vessels are ‘bottom trawling’ in waters a mile deep, scraping all life off the sea bed
  • rain forest trees in the Amazon are being lost at a rate of 2,000 trees per minute to supply us with timber and to clear land for other crops or beef farming

The power of a market economy is that it is not centrally planned, instead it delivers what people want – or what they can be persuaded that they want. So the power is with us, we can be complicit in the destruction that ultimately threatens us all, or we can do things differently.

For further information check out the Worldwatch Institute, look at Felicity Lawrence’s book ‘Not on the Label’, Sharon Beder’s book ‘Global Spin’, and Annie Leonard’s 20 minute video on Stuff.