Thursday, October 11, 2007

Are we too selfish to change?

Founds this article at no impact man.

A hundred years ago, waste was considered immoral. Throwing out something that still worked was just plain wrong.

What changed that? Marketing. Factory owners wanted to keep their production lines churning and factory workers wanted to keep their tummies full. Repetitive consumption seemed like the answer.

Slowly but surely we convinced ourselves that new was better than old. It became ok to throw things out. It became ok to waste. In fact, out with the old and in with the new kept the economic wheels turning. Buying became downright patriotic.

The result of this old messaging is that, now, everybody wants the newest iPod, the biggest SUV, a huge vacation. And no one is going to give these things up voluntarily, right? Wrong.

Because history shows us that acquisitiveness, a twentieth century phenomenon, is not based on selfishness (which presumably would have been present from the Stone Age). Instead, our consumption arose because of newly-learned social norms and values.

So, we can change the message.

For many years, in this country, smoking was trendy. Now it’s not. The message changed. When I was young, people threw their wrappers on the New York streets without a thought. Now people sneer if you drop your trash. The message changed.

Why wouldn’t the same be true of our use of planetary resources? For many years, as a culture, we thought it was great to get more and use more, and that was the message.

People argue that changing course is impossible. You can’t, they say, change human nature. But we don’t have to change human nature.

All we have to do is change the message.