Saturday, April 23, 2011

One's gotta preach

The more I'm here, the more I understand the effects of the West's over consumption (particularly the US, including myself). I see now more and more the detrimental effects of it on the people of developing countries. Don't write me off as a Marxist just yet.

We have been told to reduce our consumption, reduce our emissions or make such and such sacrifice in order to save the environment and the world. If people absolutely don't have to change their lifestyle and they can't see the tangible effects when they neglect to do so, then they won't. However, the poor, uneducated and often voiceless rural and tribal populations of India experience these effects as our consumption destroys their livelihoods. I know, I'm sounding dramatic and riled up (I am riled up), but just bare with me.
So many of the tribal and village people of India live in the most mineral rich areas. They are extremely poor and uneducated. Big mining companies want the minerals under their land, so they bribe the government to give them permits or ignore their activities. But first, the tribes have to be moved. So the government tells the tribes to get out and they will be provided with other land as well as some sort of monetary compensation. The tribes don't know they have the right to stay since they own the land. Most of these people have never left their communities much less gone to the state capital to file for a land title deed. So these tribes are moved to land that is actually owned by other tribes or villages, which causes conflict between these people. The land is usually infertile too, so they're livelihoods are destroyed. The monetary compensation filters down from the larger government and each level siphons off a little for themselves. By the time the money reaches the tribes, that is if it ever reaches them, it is significantly less than it should be-- not that many of the tribes know the amount they deserve since they're uneducated and don't understand their rights.
Meanwhile, the mining companies are destroying their land to get bauxite that will be converted into aluminum. They will sell this bauxite on the international market because they can make a ton more money than if they sold it domestically, starving any local people of profit or benefit. The mining companies are like hit and run whirlwinds: they come very suddenly, use big, fast machines instead of any manual/local labor, and then disappear without doing any of their dutiful land reclamation, leaving the area useless and damaged.Tribes can't return and continue farming. And this is all so I can get my new iphone with cheap aluminum.

Then, in countless areas throughout India, and the world, farmers have switched to growing cash crops (cotton often). Many times, companies like Monsanto will come to poor farmers and sell them their genetically modified seeds that promise to earn higher crop yields, and thus more money. This is true if there is sufficient irrigation. However, these are poor farmers in rural areas who don't have complex irrigation systems. They rely on the rain and some forms of groundwater. Also, these plants are not as resilient to pests, so then farmers come back to Monsanto to buy pesticides, putting them into debt. Unpaid debt is a highly dishonorable quality; many times farmers commit suicide because of it. They eat the pesticides that Monsanto has sold them. It can be said that Monsanto is literally killing people throughout India (If you know nothing about Monsanto, look it up. Watch Food Inc or read Travels of a T-Shirt in a Global Economy. Find out something because this company that is destroying domestic and international food security).
So these farmers don't get the high yields they're promised. What they've grown is no longer a food source, but a corporate crop. It has to be sold though, so they sell it and get a pittance of money, which they will then turn around to buy food that they could have grown themselves. When they can't afford enough food, it is imported through aid programs or from other areas of the country.These poor, rural farmers can't rely on what they grow to sustain themselves and then the aid creates dependency and brings in more genetically modified crops and soils that make them reliant on corporations.

And with all this, we are telling developing countries to become more like us and become developed like us. The West often projects the image of success as the ability to consume things beyond your necessities. If you can consume at a certain level, you are an image of success--you can buy a BMW; you can buy a high tech laptop. There's aluminum in the laptop I'm using now that was cheaply mined in a developing country and I bought it not for necessity, but for the convenience of having a smaller computer. People in the developing world now are told that their aspirations for success should include being able to buy a cell phone or wear good designer clothing. You should develop to be like us.
BUT don't do it the way we did because we destroyed lots of the environment and emitted all kinds of shit into the atmosphere. So you should reduce your emissions and develop in an environmentally friendly, but expensive, way. The United States will continue polluting more and consuming more than any other country in the world. We'll continue business as usual, but you destitute, developing countries have to make major changes. Half your people live in poverty and don't even have electricity from which to create emissions. We on the other hand drive everywhere, run our AC when we get least bit sweaty, and buy all the minerals that were unethically exported from your country; and no, we won't reduce our consumption of the earth's goods or significantly reduce our emissions. Except if everyone in the world consumed at the same level at which American people do, the earth's resources would be completely and devastatingly depleted.

A lot of the foreigners I've met here are looking for some sort of spiritual guidance. They want to escape the superficial lives of their homes and enter into some new kind of life that is more in touch with existence and reality. I've unfortunately run into a lot of disappointed and unsatisfied seekers as well. From what I've seen, this global escapism masquerading as spiritual hunger results at worst in individual madness, at best in an awareness that these life-changing gurus are little more than sky-writing, and that the mystic East could teach the West a thing or two about materialism.

Wasting here is just not an option, especially with food. You don't get the obscene portions they serve in the US. You finish what's on your plate. I was scolded incessantly for not finishing one day at my homestay. If there's any food left, it is given to the cows or pets. People buy milk almost directly from its source; they cook their own food instead of buying packaged and frozen food. They use vegetables, chicken, lentils, and actual food as their sources of sustenance. There are far fewer chemicals; less processed protein substitutes or any other artificial food. Plastic bags are illegal. People use newspaper or old clothes sewn into bags. Things are constantly recycled and reused. People take bucket showers here. While I think it may be a learned art form at which I'm still horrible, it does use A TON less water. I'm not saying these things about everyone in India; just like not everyone in the US is a senseless consumer. But in lieu of capturing every category of people, I'm making generalizations. Deal with it till the end of this post.

 Consumption can't stop altogether because then the economy would crash. It's all about the sale and purchase of goods. In my mind, more service oriented activities are the answer. Instead of buying a new tv and cell phone just because there's better ones out on the market now, why not fix/update our current ones? We're just generating more trash and consuming more materials by buying a new version of something we already have which works perfectly fine. i fall into this category all the time. I like buying stuff. I have high-tech devices. I'm just now starting to see the potential of my changes This is all too idealistic and undeveloped, but something to think about nonetheless.

Maybe people should just consume more ethically. But that constitutes more thinking and effort in buying. When you're in a hurry, or you really need something, you don't think about where it came from, the emissions produced by transporting it half way across the world or anything of the sort. You buy what's cheap; doing otherwise would just be a sacrifice. You're going to buy what's cheapest. Of course you are. So how do you send the message to people that consuming ethically is important? Well, you can't market it as a sacrifice-- that will never work. What you need are the same excellent minds that are marketing the unethical products, the ones that drive consumerism at its source by advertising and telling you what's available and why you want it. Consumerism is often driven by the need for products that are portrayed as desirable by excellent marketing minds. It works and people want what is marketed as new and trendy. So in order for people to change their consumption, they have to see it as desirable; it has to be effectively marketed as new and trendy. You need those strategies and those mindsets that created this problem in order to combat this problem. And so on ad nausem.

1 comment:

  1. Jessie!

    This post was so inspiring. I think you have a good idea at the end there - getting the people who work for advertising to work on getting people to save etc. Sadly there's no money in getting people to use less and therefore less pull.

    Eating local is awesome too! I can't say I'm perfect either (with my new laptop and Krogering) but we should all at least be trying.

    Miss you Jessie!!