Somehow Americans have allowed themselves to be defined as consumers, like sheep we have dutifully lived up to that distinction, as if it was our reason for being. Shortly after the second world war, when retailing analyst Victor Lebow pronounced that a productive American economy demanded we make consumption our way of life. He also encouraged Americans to ,"convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption." And if that wasn't clear enough, he asserted, "We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing rate." Let it not be said Americans are not quick to meet a challenge. Not only did Mr. Lebow set the tone for the next 50 years, he also set in motion a global behavior pattern that is pushing us all to the edge of extinction.
Voracious does not begin to describe the human appetite. There is nothing on this planet that is safe from humanity. Where once the measure of success was that of a happy and healthy family, now it is measured by the amount of stuff you can claim. Consumerism is a paradigm that grows exponentially. Everybody struggles to keep pace with everyone else.
Hard wired at birth to desire more, America's children are nursed on want. Instinctively desiring only the attention of caring parents, children soon learn this is not possible because mom and dad are wage slaves to a system that sees them as workers first and parents second. So instead of healthy familiar relationships the kids get plopped down in front of the television where visions of Nintendo, Barbie, and Pokemon flicker with an unnatural glow. Sadly, Americans no longer know what they want until the television tells them. It is a shame Madison Avenue is too busy promoting the rape of the planet to market clean air and water.
Over-consumption has been a hallmark of our species since the 16th century when, in 1681, the last Dodo bird - raphus cucullatus, was beaten to death as an easy meal. Since then the human appetite has known no bounds, Easter Island in the South Pacific was deforested and due to species loss, consumption took the form of cannibalism. In America the Passenger Pigeon passed into extinction so that fashionable ladies could wear feathers in their hats, and worldwide rhinoceros are all but extinct due to the primitive belief that ingesting rhino horns increases virility. Considering that no matter where man has traveled on the planet, he has consumed everything in his path, one begins to wonder if our biological imperative is to search and destroy. Adding fuel to the fire, all forms of media are designed to promote consumption. Day after day, we are subjected to a barrage of message to consume. All you can eat buffets, super sizes, and two for the price of one, are mantras that Americans are programmed to respond to.
Human beings pride themselves on their mental acumen, yet evidence the common sense of a dirt clod in regards to their relationship to the environment. Case in point is our addiction to fossil fuels. Scientist worldwide have proven beyond reasonable doubt that the burning of fossil fuels is slowly choking entire biosphere, bringing about a global warming to the point of human catastrophe, yet we continue on as if nature knows no bounds.
Speaking of the coming catastrophe, on March 23, 2000, the National Science Foundation reported an iceberg more than twice the size of Delaware has broken off from Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf. Just the beginning salvo in the rise of sea levels and the inundation of coastal regions, human indifference to the environmental consequences of their actions has brought us to the point of no return.
As ocean levels begin to rise, and they are beginning to rise, we will be forced to downsize our cars, our appetites, the size of our families, and most of all our egos. Currently the choice is still ours.
It is often said that less is more, and if human beings are going to see the dawn of the 22nd century it is imperative we learn to live with less. Regardless of how much Americans believe the world is one giant buffet, the grim reality is the planet can not, and will not, suffer our gluttony much longer. Now is the time to start making profound changes in the way we relate to the environment that sustains us.