Monday, October 03, 2005

Uncle Sam Mange more

Bush asks Americans hesistantly to cut down on petrol. And the whole thing is so tentative and feeble. We don’t want Americans to think, we want to save environment, do we? I mean, reduce consumption and think about ecological balance. How BS is that.

What is with the Americans? Before Bush administration, the number of SUVs in US was 2 million. Now it is 80 million. That is a startling figure. Petrol and gas is a scarce natural resource and the path to tread is to adopt technologies that embrace eco-friendly sources of energy AND stem the excessive consumption of fossil fuels. Not ply to office through monstrous traffic jams in a fuel-guzzling beast.

Just look at the cockiness of this…

In 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney said, "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it cannot be the basis of a sound energy policy." Also that year, Ari Fleischer, then Mr. Bush's press secretary, responded to a question about reducing American energy consumption by saying "that's a big no."

"The president believes that it's an American way of life," Mr. Fleischer said.

I believe this partly is a problem with capitalism. There are great benefits and advantages that stem for this ideology. It encourages healthy competition, innovativeness, allows corporations to bring out products that make life easier and simpler. It promotes new ideas, wealth and prosperity.

But we also have to realise that a free market is essentially a run-away engine. It feeds on MORE. To keep growing the businesses, the consumers need to consume more and for that, you need to push your products more.

Yes, things do get cheaper, but that is a problem. There is an alarming tendency to flog and use items in a dispensible manner. Case in point is Primark, the largest clothes retailer on the UK high street. You get good quality shirts for £4, trousers for £10, undergarments for £3. Prices continue to drop, because though Primark maintains a decent quality, it continues to source material from cheaper suppliers all over the world. Add to that, you have innovation in fabric technology - so you have clothes made of teflon and acrylic. What this actually promotes is use of clothes as a readily disposable commodity. I mean, you just buy whole lot of stuff during one shopping spree (I couldnt find a fitting room after 30 min wait) and if the clothes don't fit, just throw them away. Wear it once, it feels outdated, go buy new stuff.

Marketeers are brain-washing the consumers into instant outdated-ness. They will tell you that the clothes you bought today are so out of fashion and you have to get rid of them NOW. Creating micro segments in every category so even in clothes, you have party-, evening-, casual-, sports-, outdoor/picnic-, formal-wear. Some of it is understandable, but imagine a few years ago, where was the thrust to own such a variety of clothing? It's not so much that a market exists for niche or unconventional pursuits, rather, it is created, nurtured and encouraged to keep the sales coming in.

Because of massive choice for the buyers, the manufacturers have to be innovative and invent new ways to attract customers. This is great as we get some innovative products that are genuinely useful. But many a times, its the same wine in different bottle. Packaging costs more than the products these days. Then, the quest to sell more and more to keep growing. 3 for 2 offers, 30 % extra, £5 off if we spend £100 or more and so on. The consumer is constantly "asked" to buy more to get a feeling that he is saving. Actually, most things he thus buys rot in his fridge or closet.

My grouse is essentially there is mindless exploitation of natural resources to feed the sophisticated tastes of this generation. That we can afford them doesn’t justify its use. Because, of the economic and the political clout, most of the environmental cost (of manufacturing and waste-disposal) is borne by the poor countries. But, how long can we stay insulated in such a globally connected world - physically as well as electronically. Smog from Chinese mainland regularly slips over HongKong casting a gloomy shadow over the newly opened Disneyland.

Capitalism equated to consumerism is unsustainable. There are riches that we fail to explore as we live today, before we jump on to newer quests and want newer things (peddled by the market forces) from life. The want for more will surely pave the way for the inevitable, sooner than expected.

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