What does the Brent oil price has to do with bread or rice price? asked the director of VSF Global Food Justice (VSF Justicia Alimentaria Global) in a recent article: “One of the major consumers of cereal are our cars, in biodiesel form” so, when the oil price lowers, also the cereals price lowers. A graphic example of two defining features on how the system works: anything, material or not, can be commodity and everything is related.
In September 2015, United Nations agreed 17 sustainable development goals (SDG) that – at least on paper – countries commit to achieve in 15 years. The objective 12 consists in ensuring consumption patterns and sustainable production. A praiseworthy and so urgent goal, that 2030 seems too distant. Currently, human gluttony needs about 50% more than the Earth can regenerate, according to WWF’s environmental organization Living Planet Report. If we do not change the rate of degradation and the demand of resources, by 2030 we will need two planets like ours, which is a curious way to fulfil the aforementioned SDG. At this pace, the environment is left in a quarter.
If the entire world population had equal access to goods, the environmental outlook would be even worse: if the North socioeconomic lifestyle becomes widespread, we would need around four Earths. Such state of affairs is, at least, outrageous. In flagrant contradiction to the goals, it is quite unsustainable, both environmentally and ethically.
To achieve the 12th goal, the UN says, “it requires a systemic approach”, but the problem is exactly a system – the consumer society; which is capitalism – whose happiness horizon is, taking the title of an interesting documentary, “The Lightbulb Conspiracy” to buy and throw, decoupling things from their primary function (clothes to dress, cars to move, etc.) and endorse them, in exchange, functions that have to do with self-esteem. Shouldn’t we start by changing this horizon?
An important role on this is played by education, and not only the one taught in the classroom, not only the one addressed to young people. The entire citizenship is subject of education, because it is to question the perception of what is normal. Can it be considered normal throwing food while millions of people are malnourished, destroying ecosystems for private profit, pay all what some pollute, buy cheap at the expense of the rights of the most vulnerable populations, etc.? Is it really appealing a happiness that looks very much like the businessman of Saint Exupéry´s Little Prince, exhausting his life accounting don’t know what, without any utility or objective?
The UN itself recognizes the importance of “engaging consumers through awareness and education on consumption and sustainable livelihoods, providing adequate information”. Informing in appropriate way is putting on the table hidden links (covert?) between injustice, impoverishment and environmental degradation, in order not to destroy with right had what is been done with the left, with the best intention excuse. When we know, for example, that after the bread and rice price hides the oil price we will be able to decide. And the ability to decide is what makes a citizenship free. That’s why education for consumption is political education.
Araceli Caballero is Spanish journalist, interested in the links between impoverishment, environmental degradation and consumption habits. She collaborates with Cristianismo y Justicia, Study Center dedicated to social and theological reflection, created in 1981 by the Jesuits of Catalonia. She´s the author of Protozoos insumisos. Ciudadanía y consumo responsable.