Mankind is an addict. We have a collective insatiable appetite for prioritizing ourselves over the biophysical reality that hosts us. Our situation is quite simple: we live in a world that has a finite amount of resources but we set collective standards of achieving infinite levels of capitalist-led growth. While mankind chooses to embrace the latter tendency, we more often than not neglect the former. This can be illustrated across many layers of social strata. The single African-American woman isn’t concerned with feeding her children a McDonald’s dinner because she has to worry about feeding them in the first place. The prudent university student won’t use a thermos in lieu of a non-recyclable cup for his coffee because he has a career to build. The multi-millionaire, although with more means than the previous two, won’t invest in biodegradable packaging because she might be voted out of her company by her stakeholders. It would appear that the capitalist system, across all fronts, is systematically flawed.
Yet, for some reason or the other, rigidly capitalist institutions are what lead development discourse because development is bound by an economic paradigm. The ultimate proof for this is to ask oneself whether or not they see themselves being able to survive in this modern world without a mode of consumption (e.g. currency), lest the answer be an anarchic free-for-all. Commodities are at the hallmark of needless consumption. Marxist thought posits that humans bind abstract social ties to the commodities they consume by manifesting objective value to things that, by their very nature, have no real value (Marx, 1867). When a retailer suggests a table is worth “X dollars” and a consumer wishes to pay “X dollars” for the table, a consumer-seller relationship is created. When the consumer assigns numerical value to something they desire, they have fetishized that commodity. This phenomenon, one could argue, lies at the heart of capitalist behaviour. The ‘need’ to consume is so intrinsically fabricated in our daily lives that we become oblivious to the countless steps in resource extraction and development that are guised under whatever it is we’re consuming. The samosa that I ate today was produced in a bulk factory, most likely fossil-fuel driven, whose sale was tracked on my (once again, fossil-fuel driven) smartphone made from components extracted across the globe. The defining factor for not getting an organic, healthier and better-tasting samosa just two blocks away: it saved me a dollar.
Before continuing, it must be noted, however, that isolated individual action makes no tangible ecological difference; it is only collective (or in economic layman’s terms, supply-demand) driven action that does. One collective push for ‘greener’ development has been the bio movement. Products, for example, without chemically-enhanced preservatives, petro-chemical derivatives, fungi/herbi/pesiticides are becoming increasingly attractive. This was a necessary step in realizing just how pervasive our unnatural consumption patterns could be. However, almost instantaneously this became fetishized and exploited through ‘greenwashing’. This occurs when products are labelled as bio to be sold at a higher price, the company having done so through some sort of loophole, without actually meeting bio requirements. This essentially uses nature as a retail poster child and takes advantage of ecologically-conscious consumers.
Ecologically-conscious consumers shouldn’t be put on a pedestal for their actions either, because in light of capitalistic hindrances they should be the rule, not the exception. Those who are rigid and refute changes in their environmental behaviour do so out of fear to adapt to what is, indisputably, a dying world. It explains why news sources profusely celebrate life being discovered on Mars; it attempts to justify the shaming of vegans; it hides behind a comfortable capitalist reality: Mother Nature is our whore and we are addicted to her exploitation.
Marx, 1867. "Capital: A Critique of Political Economy", Vol. I. The Process of Capitalist Production