Discussing consumption is never easy. The conversation gets even more complex when you consider the political action (or lack thereof) of the person who is consuming. How do we manage the instinct of somehow holding the individual solely responsible for the climate crisis.
There is a capitalist system that drags us towards mass consumption, but when more than one person rethinks the consumption model, we sow a seed that will bear fruit if we all water it.
Leticia Toledo and Maria Victoria Coronado drew attention to this in their article ‘Slow-burn Consumption’: “We live in a capitalist and patriarchal economic system, the existence of which is based on unlimited growth, which consumes raw materials and human energy to generate money,” they write. “In this context, the only jobs that are considered to exist are those that produce goods and services that can be monetized.”
Unpaid jobs — which account for two-thirds of the total time available — are left out of the calculation, despite being those that sustain life and that are mostly performed by women. In the same way, the dominant economic logic forgets that we are part of planet Earth, an ecological system with its own timelines and limits, which we depend on to satisfy our needs.
So how do we rethink consumption and provide people with dignified lives?
Economics of equality
Mercedes D’Alessandro, an Argentine economist and writer, defines feminist economics as an economic perspective that seeks to give more value to the role of women in the system of production. The economist studies issues such as poverty or inequality from a gender-based perspective, understanding that gender relations sustain and reproduce economic activity and contribute to generating poverty and inequality.
For this reason, when we talk about closing the wage gap, we cannot just stay on the surface, thinking that equal salaries are enough. Basically, we are talking about the need to transform the way we organize our daily economic life and also to change how we think about it.
Consumerism is associated with economic growth and the disappearance of poverty, but this is a myth.
The current economic system generates disadvantages every day for women, particularly women of color, women in precarious jobs, refugees, and migrants. It tends to reinforce inequalities, which are not errors or exceptions. It is the way capitalism works. It is a system that harms those who are caregivers, nurses, teachers, cleaners, mothers, grandmothers, and those working in public health care systems
What’s more, if we introduce an ecological outlook to this feminist economy, as Leticia Toledo and Maria Victoria Coronado have stated, it means understanding that what we consume comes from the planet we inhabit, with its own timelines and limits, because neither fossil fuels nor minerals are infinite.
Workers at a garment manufacturing factory in Lianyungang, China
True price of fast fashion
At Youth x Climate Spain, a youth-led organization that focuses on raising awareness and taking action on the issue of climate change, we denounce events that celebrate capitalism such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Consumerism is often associated with economic growth and the disappearance of poverty, but this is a myth. To maintain this level of consumption in privileged countries, it is necessary to continue exploiting workers in the Global South.
Let’s talk about the highly exploitative textile industry, who exploits working women and has a devastating ecological impact.
With our consumption, we can oppress.
On the one hand, of the 75 million people who work in the world of clothing, 80% of these are women between the ages of 18 and 35. The majority live in countries with few legal protections and are exploited by large companies for one or two dollars a day.
The textile industry is also responsible for 10% of CO2 emissions worldwide. A study carried out by researchers from Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia revealed that the sector produces 92 million tons of waste per year and consumes 79 billion liters of water.
Workers facing inhumane labor conditions and being obliged to handle dangerous chemicals for human health are the price to pay to be able to sell mountains of cheap clothes.
Caring for others, and the environment
At Youth x the Climate, we encourage clothing exchanges, second-hand shopping and the promotion of local businesses. We stress the importance of educating and uniting collectives in order to stop this system that prioritizes lining the pockets of a few over caring for the lives of many.
Ultimately, we live in a consumerist system that encourages quick solutions. Take giving gifts, for example. Many times, when giving gifts, we do not think about others: neither the receivers of the gifts nor who has manufactured what we give away and under what conditions.
Consumption has many consequences. Activist Sara Boureiyi put it best: “With our consumption, we can oppress.” Racism, feminism and environmentalism are interrelated when we talk about consumption. It is difficult to raise the climate crisis as a priority when there are other emergencies.
However, it is impossible to address these problems exclusively. We are eco-dependent — we must not only take care of each other but also of the land we live on.
The more time passes, the more urgent the situation becomes. And we can’t just propose easy solutions that don’t go to the heart of fixing our exploitative and broken systems of manufacture and consumption.
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