Ed. Note: We are happy to share this reader response, which is part of a series submitted by undergraduate students at Loyola University Chicago from a course called ENVS 363: Sustainable Business Management.
Creating a successful economy without continuous economic growth requires a movement to break down the foundations of our consumer culture.
Early this morning before the sun rose, you would have found me slouched in bed, drenched in sweat and painfully regretful, writhing with a fierce stomachache as a half-eaten five-pound bag of Haribo Gold-Bears Gummi Candy lay beside me. That massive bag of candy undoubtedly conquered me. I began the night with the intention of rapidly consuming these irresistibly succulent bears at an increasing pace until dawn, at which time I would rip open a five-pound bag of Sour Gummi Dinosaurs for breakfast. But alas, around 3:45 AM my body rejected the copious amounts of corn syrup and gelatin. As I clutched my bloated belly in the fetal position begging God for the sweet release of death, I couldn’t help but consider how my dangerous obsession with these god-forsaken Haribo Candy Products resembles the reckless and excessive consumer culture in the United States. Just like my nation’s economy, I fail to practice moderation and consume resources at an unsustainable rate. To understand how to create a successful economy without continuous economic growth, I searched the depths of my sugar-craving psyche for answers.
The mindset that fuels my exorbitant addiction to a diverse variety of Haribo products is the very same mindset that allows for unsustainable production habits in the US. Our economy today is built on this promise of the fulfillment of unlimited desires. Growing up in a consumer culture saturated with advertisements promising me that the more I consume, the higher my quality of life is, I have been naturally and inescapably lured into the mindset that I can never have enough. Ever since I was a small child I have been regularly exposed to companies influencing my choices to further their goal of exponential growth. Of course, such growth cannot be sustained, regardless of the scale by which it is attempted. Whether you are a powerful multinational candy corporation or simply a college-aged millennial with an insatiable sweet tooth, we must understand that there are limits to consumption.
With every additional mouthful of Sour Gummi Spaghetti or Happy Hoppers Gummi Bunnies and Carrots, I receive a little bit more short-term satisfaction, so I continue to eat and eat and eat, overjoyed at the incredible realization that I can eat gummy candies forever and there will always be an unlimited supply of five pound bags waiting for me underneath my bed. Of course, this dream is a distant fantasy. Today my throat is raw with artificial flavoring, my gastrointestinal system feels like a bubbling sludge pit, and I’m pretty sure that all my teeth are rotting out. Meanwhile, corporations and governments worldwide are depleting resources at a faster rate than the Earth can naturally replenish them and the environment pays the price—freshwater, arable land, and forests are all diminishing, leaving people’s livelihoods more and more threatened. Rampant fossil fuel combustion has caused carbon dioxide levels to reach 400ppm, which is the highest amount in human history. According to NASA, emitting carbon dioxide at our current rate until energy resources are exhausted would result in an atmosphere with 1600 ppm, guaranteeing an unrecognizable global climate. (NASA, 2017) Worldwide crop and fisheries failure, devastating weather events and health effects would follow, the result of attempting continuous growth. An economy built on the premise of unlimited growth that cannot fundamentally provide for unlimited growth is doomed to fail.
We live in a culture that prioritizes quick yet destructive short-term economic gain over methodical, sometimes tedious but resilient long-term gain. Seeking out instant gratification and short-term satisfaction can no longer be tolerated. If there is any hope in creating a successful economy without continuous economic growth, we must reteach ourselves how to consume. Students are entering the workforce with crippling student debt, unable to afford a house or provide for a family. Millions of Americans do not have access to fresh food or water even though they live in the world’s wealthiest nation. Only when dissatisfaction with the system reaches an intolerable tipping point can the economic and political solutions gain enough public support to be implemented. Imagine educational systems and national movements that teach the youth how to think critically and strategically when navigating a world that bombards them with unnecessary temptations and empty promises. Imagine the public demanding investment in the research and development of clean technologies, including renewable energy, that would eliminate reliance on energy sources that degrade our environment. Imagine the creation of a circular economy from the ground up, where households, businesses, and public institutions envisioning strategies for reusing their waste, so they no longer need to pay unnecessary expenses for disposal and replacement. Imagine businesses throughout the United States engaging in dialogue on ways to cut costs by reducing energy use and realizing that by implementing such strategies they could afford to hire additional employees. Imagine consumers demanding high-quality, long-lasting products instead of easily breakable and replaceable goods. All these scenarios are realistic if the public is well informed on the possibilities. Exponential growth is destructive and to create an economy without it requires people understanding its ill-effects.
As I lay in recovery among my discarded Haribo wrappers, mouth full of cavities, and the crushing shame that comes with my foul lifestyle, I reflect on how large-scale change can only truly occur through positive individual choices. I meander towards the fridge to grab an apple, disappointed to find that it’ll probably take weeks before my taste buds recover from the abuse.
“Climate Change Evidence: How Do We Know?” Edited by Holly Shaftel, NASA, , 10 Aug. 2017, climate.nasa.gov/evidence/.