Consumed: America’s Insatiable Appetites

Listen live, download to your iPod or read this Marketplace series on America’s (and now the rest of the world’s) gluttony for STUFF. I especially appreciated Jared Diamond’s interview in Part 3, and he’s right.

The war has to be waged on all fronts. Let’s not pretend that if we just recycle or have a kitchen garden the planet will thank us and get back to its regularly scheduled program. First in the series is here.

RYSSDAL: Is the rate of use (of trees, fish, topsoil, fossil fuels) increasing? Are things getting worse more quickly than they did 20 years ago?

Diamond: Yes, things are getting worse more quickly, for obvious reasons — namely, the human population is increasing, and worse yet, average consumption rates are increasing. That’s to say, out of the world’s six-and-a-half-billion people, the majority are in the so-called Third World, but they are working hard to catch up.

RYSSDAL: The same way that I would imagine there’s no one thing you can point to where you’d say that’s the tipping point of decline, is there one thing that can be done to reverse that decline?

Diamond: Yes, and that is to stop looking for the one thing that we could do to reverse the decline. The reason is that there are about a dozen major problems and we got to solve them all. If we solve 11 of those problems, but we don’t solve the water problem, we’re finished. Or if we solve 11 of those problems but we don’t solve the problem of topsoil and agriculture, we’re finished. So we’ve got to solve all 12 problems and not look for that one problem that’s most important.

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

Articles: 3013


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. I have his book, “Collapse”, and it is clear that we have a societal choice to make. Unfortunately, with global warming, the choice has to be made at a global level (especially difficult as no country is yet doing the right thing at the national level). I hope the pols can make the right choices soon enough…

  2. This is eye-opening stuff. One of the problems, of course, is that even a very average American lifestyle consumes a lot of resources. My family is of modest means, so we live simply. We conserve water, recycle often, and don’t buy a lot of stuff. But we live far out in the country, so we have to drive to jobs and to stores. My husband is a carpenter, so he has to have a truck (small Toyota) for his job, which does use more gas than a small car. We don’t have a lot, but we do have a computer, a television, a stereo, and of course the usual appliances, which use electricity. What I’m saying is that even when one is frugal as they can be with resources, they still use a lot. And I’m not sure if there is any way around that. I mean, you gotta go to work, you gotta buy food and necessities, and some use of water is essential. We do our best, but I still feel like we use too much…

  3. This makes me feel helpless and hopeless.

    Problem is when people feel like their effort to help, doesn’t make a difference, then everyone just gets discouraged and quits trying to make a difference in their own small way. And that will make our problem even worse, even faster.

    I believe our efforts, do help. Yes we need much more in all areas, but keep doing as much as you can, in every way you can. It does make a difference and you should feel good about doing your part and not guilty that you don’t do enough. Dooms day predicitions can become self-fulfilling prophesies. Pat yourself on the back for what you do to help and try to add one more little thing to your way of helping.

  4. I think that Diamond couldn’t have said it better. I wasn’t happy with Collapse, but this interview is right on. I guess the idea of failing is always overwhelming and depressing, but we’re failing on all fronts right now. Our collective conscious is lagging behind–I mean, my governor just held a prayer meeting to call an end to the drought because Atlanta’s about to be out of water in two months. Have we raised the price of water, enforced restrictions, actually done anything about the situation? No. Our politicians pray (I’m not saying it’s not a good thing, but human action is 100% sure to work, and is fairly inoffensive) and blame the endangered mussels in Florida. It’s such a mess.

    Anyways, rambling aside, kudos to Diamond.

  5. I didn’t mean to imply in my earlier comment that I had a sense of utter futility concerning our efforts to conserve. I believe very much in the power of individuals, no matter how small their efforts, to make a difference. And we won’t stop trying to do our little part and looking for other ways to help, even when we feel it’s not enough. It’s just that I feel like what is really needed is a massive paradism shift in this country. As Jes said, a radical change in our collective consciousness–I believe that is the only thing that will save us. And it’s hard to feel hope for that, especially with our current administration. But having said that, yes, we will continue to do our part, which includes doing what we can to vote people into office who seem to give a damn about their children’s and grandchildren’s futures.

  6. I agree, Wanda, one can become overwhelmed at the enormity of the problems we face. But I think it’s important to move beyond the notion that if I just do my part, well, the problems will take care of themselves.

    We must act locallly, but if we only act locally, we’re sunk.

    We all need to think globally and insist that our leaders do the same. We all need to think in terms of generations, and insist that our leaders do the same.

    Our sphere of concern and activism has to spread beyond our personal space if we’re to have a meaningful impact in time to make a difference.

    And yes, it’s possible that opportunity has already passed for one or more of Diamond’s Dirty Dozen crises we all ultimately face or most certainly will leave to those who come after us.

    Thanks, Beth, Jes and others for your comments. I think this is an important new emphasis–as you say Beth, a paradigm shift–whose time has come. And the shift may be one of the most difficult transitions every undertaken by modern man, or his final failure.

  7. I agree Fred.

    I’d like to add that I encourage everyone I know to phone, write and email their Senators and Representatives in their state and all US Congress people, and not just from your own state. Because Congress people have learned that people from any state, anywhere, can financially support their opponent. So, for example, if Harry Reid from Nevada is trying to push thru something I disagree with, I email him.

    A few days ago, the Senate was trying to push thru a bill giving immunity to the phone companies that took part in the wire tapping of our phones without cause or warrants. This bill was pushed by powerful lobbist and looked like an easy one! But they were stopped by phone calls, faxes, and emails from American citizens, one call, one fax, and one email at a time, so many they jammed the Senate systems, and the bill failed because we the people stood up to the lobbist!

    And not just once. Anytime you hear in the news, Congress is considering anything that matters to you, at the very least send some emails to them expressing your support for or against. I find emailing to be the easiest method of contact and it’s just as effective as the other methods. And take a little time to learn all sides of the issue you’re interested in. Very often the short sound bite you hear can be very misleading. Be sure you know the details of what you are for.