October 6, 2019 § 1 Comment

I’ve always hated that label, especially when it is used in a context that has nothing to do with consuming. But as the earth signals, in less and less equivocal ways, that we are driving its natural systems to the point of breakdown, I see that, in all contexts, we are consumers, and that we are consuming the very things on which our survival depends.

And we are doing it so casually, so thoughtlessly, because this is how it is. This is what we do. This is our normal, and heck, everyone does it.

As the elasticity of the ecosystems we take for granted disappears we have to look at “normal” with new eyes. Here are four ways to do that.

1.Think like an alien, one who can see the evolving disaster that threatens all life on this beautiful blue planet. Then observe the behavior of the dominant species.

What? These humans use 1.6 gallons of potable water to make a few ounces of urine go away, eat one meal with a plastic fork that will outlast the person using it, bulldoze a stand of trees and build a dollar store?

If you were seeing human activity as an outsider, would you see reason or madness?

2. Stop being so stubbornly individual, so competitive, a mindset particularly strong among Americans. Instead, think of humankind as a single family, one we hope will go on indefinitely.

We can still think as individuals, entertain our own dreams, but when we interact with the material world we must consider the outcome of our actions, not only for ourselves in this moment, but for all life now and yet to come. This requires thought and restraint. We must learn to reuse, conserve, do without.

Admittedly, this is made harder by the fact that what we have is so unevenly distributed creating competition and jealousy–it is easier to share when we are roughly equal, all sacrificing together. Achieving more material equity may be part of the solution.

3. Slow down and pay attention to the other life forms on the planet, species that are quietly winking out while we whir and chase and acquire. Get to know the non-human life with which we share the planet and you will recognize that what humans need to survive is not our exclusive property.

Other living things have needs and rights just as valid, and as a by-product of their daily activities our lives are supported. How do you feel about hand-pollinating food plants when all the pollinators are gone?

4. Although we cannot absolutely prove God, we elevate, praise, and rely on Him. Here, in this temporal place, water, air, and green plants sustain us. If God exists, He expresses himself through the ordinary miracles the earth provides. Those who live mindfully treat those resources with respect and gratitude that is both active and conscious. They are aware of the water they drink, aware that if that water is in a plastic bottle there are consequences that will persist. They take responsibility for the ripple effects generated by what they do.

We are all consumers. Every living thing is. But if we do it right we will all be okay. The earth has systems to restore, recycle, replenish. It is our over-consumption, and our disruptive remaking of the natural world that have tipped the scales.

We have to change now, or sooner. If we don’t, the earth will shrug us off along with myriad other species that have done nothing to deserve it.

Maybe change begins with the admission that the label “consumer” fits the human species. Maybe we go from there.

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§ One Response to Consumer.

  • Gordon Magill says:

    Beautifully and heartfully put, Adrian! It is all much larger that we imagine, and yet every decision (or lack of decision) we make affects everything. I love the saying attributed to John Muir (one of my heros) “Pick a wildflower and you disturb the Universe.”


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