Matthew has raised the issue of “overconsumption” a couple of times, most recently in this comment.
On the way home from the hearing yesterday, I stopped to get a tour of our local community facility for those in need, the Action Center. They said that they were having trouble with moving people from homelessness into housing due to a less than 5% vacancy rate in rental housing in our area. So it seems like more building would be good in that context to move people from underconsumption to consumption.
I think individuals probably do “overconsume,” and people with more probably have since before recorded time. In those days it was decried more from a “give your extra to those who have none” context rather than a “reduce your environmental footprint” context, but the behavior seems to be the same.
Still, I’m not sure that decreasing timber production from small western communities close to federal land is really related to the problem of overconsumption. If people think so, I would like to hear more about it. Because people definitely do overconsume calories, and the solution has never been to buy up farmland to bring it back to its historical range of variation. When food or timber can be and is imported, I’m not sure that “overconsumption” is an argument for not producing it locally and giving our own folks jobs.
This topic is a bit of a crosswalk of my interests, and I wouldn’t have posted the essay below except that the topic came up. I took a class in Creative Writing with Gotham Writers Workshop online last fall. It was a good course and teacher was excellent. Here’s an essay I wrote for the class…note that Matthew didn’t say “we” overconsume, so the essay is not directed at folks like him.. his comment just reminded me of this essay.
Breast Beating of Others is Neither Attractive Nor Particularly Useful
I spend a great deal of time around people who work in the spiritual and church business. They are great people in general, and I love them. These are the people you want around when things are going very, very badly for you. That’s why I don’t ask them what the H they are talking about, or slap them upside the head, when they say things like I’m going to describe below. Occasionally I am tempted but..
It’s about the profligate use of the word “we”. As in “we Americans consume too much.” I honestly don’t understand why someone would say this to a group of people. You could say “I think some of the people in this room consume too much”, but really how would you know? Unless you were going through their trash, or checking the miles per gallon of, and counting their vehicles. And of course in my spiritual community, we’re supposed to follow the Guy who said “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”
My point would be that while some Americans are rich, many are poor. Many are working and overworked, in a less-than-pleasant work environment, to make ends meet and to provide for their families, not to buy their second Prius, and then bask in a glow of climate change prevention self-satisfaction.
We always talk, in the same kinds of churchy situations, about ethnic and cultural differences among Americans and how valuable these differences are. Yet when it comes to something bad, we seem to have been homogenized into one gelatinous glob (“Americans are destroying the environment”). So if you only mean “some” Americans, just say it. Like “I think white upper-class Americans are destroying the environment”. That’s much better as those of us not in the upper class or white, can just grab a milk shake at McDonald’s and go home and feel good about ourselves.
Now that we’ve identified the culprits of over-consumerism, you can target your message to them and make sure that they are there when you engage in your castigation of behavior. This reminds me of my former church in Virginia. A couple of times per year, young priests from somewhere would show up with fire and brimstone sermons against abortion, to a congregation of gray and white-haired folk. Waste of time, anyone?
And really, what good is it to exhort people who are not there? And really, how well does exhortation work to modify human behavior? Seems like we have been hearing “Thou shalt not kill” since the time of Moses, which has been a long time, and people still go around killing.
My solution is that if you want to confess and do penance, beat your own breast, and I’ll let you know when you can touch mine. If you said, instead of “Americans consume too much”, “I consume too much,” I would ask you “what do you think is too much?” and “why do you do it?”. That would be the beginning of an interesting and instructive conversation. But please, leave the “me” in “we” out of it.