Chapter 12: Case Study: Consumerism
This chapter addresses one of the most challenging aspects of American environmental values and behavior: our incredibly consumptive lifestyles and norms. We’ll explore critical perspectives from the 2007 video, The Story of Stuff, connecting them to concepts we’ve already discussed in this book, such as Loy’s and Niebuhr’s anthropologies as well as Baer’s analysis of our need to control. The voluntary simplicity movement has both secular and religious/spiritual dimensions, and provides some reference points for how different values communities have approached these issues. The majority of this chapter summarizes a little known study of consumption commissioned by the National Religious Partnership for the Environment in the 1990s, which drew from several theologians across different traditions. The themes these theologians address are as relevant today as they were 20 years ago. So long as Americans cannot extract themselves from the addictive patterns of wasteful consumption that currently provide the convenience and satiation that pose as American well-being, environmental degradations will continue apace. Spiritual resources and disciplines will be needed in the quest for meaningful change.