Can the planet sustain ever-increasing consumption? Logically, the answer is no. Across its life cycle, the average product results in carbon emissions of 6.3 times its own weight. It is not enough simply to green consumption by buying more sustainably produced goods — it is essential to reduce consumption through degrowth. That is because 45% of global greenhouse gas emissions comes solely from the production of the things we use and buy everyday.
Our love of things is a product of accepted wisdom that consumption is essential to economic growth, since our demand for things makes companies profitable and provides employment. But because environmental and social justice impacts are not figured into purchase costs, the impacts on the planet from our household consumption has a drastic effect on the environment.
Many of us were raised by family members who had experienced the austerity of World War II years. Every scrap was saved; luxuries were denied. Then came the rush of the post-war era, when people in the US moved into over 1,000,000 new homes annually. Spending on furniture and appliances increased by 240%. Each year, families bought millions of cars, refrigerators, stoves, and televisions.
It was a time of unbridled consumerism and what came to be accepted as prosperity.
Then came awareness of the connection between consumerism and anthropogenic climate change. By 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that deep cuts to consumer demand were needed to reduce carbon emissions. That perspective was antithetical to what had been a prevailing sentiment that whoever owns more toys wins.
Such cuts i …