Capitalism and big business are the villains of the story being built in defense of Mother Earth. They are decried as the reason we are headed toward an environmental apocalypse. This may be true but it seems a bit shallow in the explanation of how we arrived at our current situation. Business succeeded at selling us the destructive products and lifestyles because within the stories being told in the ads lies the key to working our way out: the desire of convenience. Humans can be very productive beings but in many ways are probably the laziest creatures on Earth. If we don’t feel like doing something, we don’t. The rest of the animal kingdom has to work for survival every moment of the day. They do not rest. Humans do and therefore we love what allows us to rest. In this, we adore convenience.
Convenience brought us the refrigerator. It is far more convenient to buy once a week instead of multiple times. It is far more convenient to not have to can every fruit and vegetable if you cannot eat it within the precious time that it lasts on the counter. With refrigeration, it has become far more convenient to ship fruits, vegetables, and dairy products halfway across the country and the world. This convenience has brought our current situation that is not convenient for the planet. It would be far more convenient for the planet if we ate seasonally and locally. The one time of year (at least for Americans) that we eat seasonally is towards the fall holidays (Thanksgiving especially). We generally find that apple cider, taffy/caramel apples, and pumpkin anything is only in the time of year that that they are ripening. It is extremely difficult to find pumpkin flavored foods in the middle of April for example. Yet somehow, we find it rather normal to be eating strawberries in November and asparagus in August. This is very contrary to the natural food cycle and what should be more convenient logically speaking. It seems quite a bit more convenient to order produce within 100 miles in season than to deal with paying to ship out of season produce 1000 miles.
Convenience also brought us air conditioning and central heating. I will be the first to say that I probably don’t want to live without them but they do bring up some interesting points about convenience. How many people will switch straight from heat to AC and vice versa without just leaving it off for a little while? The fall and spring allow for a time window of keeping windows open to allow the outside air to just breeze through. We design houses to include as much natural light as possible without regarding the heating effects. It seems very convenient to build very large windows wherever we like but it also seems rather inconvenient to pay to heat and cool a house that could have been designed from the beginning to take into account the heating and cooling requirements. We pay an inconvenient fee for a modern convenience which takes a large portion of residential energy use. I really can’t think of an application of energy in the average person’s home that uses more energy than AC and heat.
We were sold anti-environmental products and lifestyles with the promise of convenience. Many feel angry at capitalism and big business for selling us into environmental issues. They are correct about the origin of the problem but many tend to overlook the idea that the origin of the problem could be the solution. Are we going to be sold the idea of living without refrigerators and central AC? No, no we aren’t, not on a broad scale. We can however be convinced of alternatives to common products that are more wasteful than others. Business can be a part of the solution to sustainability. We just have to make sustainability convenient. If you can make the more sustainable option, the most convenient one, then we may find ourselves utilizing capitalism for a better future. It may not be the only option but it should be considered a possible one.