Creating A “Green” Future: The American Revolution, Consumer Action, and “Ecological Intelligence,” Part 5 of 6

Part One Part TwoPart Three

Part FourPart FivePart Six

They understood that the empire’s power rested on the production and exchange of goods and material. And they also understood that the most valuable and powerful tool they held to oppose Parliament’s action was . . . the production and exchange of goods.

If they stopped buying, powerful people in England would feel the pain. And feel it fast.

That’s what happened. First the colonists organized “non-importation” movements, and then, when that was not enough to make Parliament heed them, they organized “non-consumption” movements.

As Breen put it in the introduction to his book, North American colonists “made goods speak to power in ways” that their rulers and leaders back in England had not anticipated. British North American colonists used their material culture — their “stuff” — to foment revolution. They understood that non-consumption was more powerful than guns, or, for that matter, words.

So, back to Goleman’s book. (I know. You were wondering if I was ever going to get to the point.) I think you can see now why I was a bit, um, amused by the Amazon criticism of Goleman’s book. Clearly, consumption and consumerism and consumer values can be powerful tools in fomenting change.

First, Goleman examines the Life Cycle Assessment — how engineers, scientists, and researchers figure out what the true ecological cost of a good is, from inception to creation to consumption: What’s the ecological cost of the materials to make it? What’s the ecological cost of the vehicles used to transport those materials? Etc.

Goleman points out that at present, many goods are marketed with “greenwashing”: the manufacturers either mask the true ecological cost of the good, or they exaggerate it in an effort to woo consumers who want to go green. He argues that what’s needed in the marketplace is “radical transparency.” By that he means some method of labeling or otherwise providing full information about the “life cycle” of goods.

Most important, however, he argues that the information needs to be provided at the point of purchase itself. You can determine the true ecological cost of that apple from New Zealand while you’re still standing in the grocery store.

Next: Using information and goods to create revolution.

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