Consumed -
Benjamin Barber

Book Summary and reflections

Of course we all buy stuff. We all need food to eat, a dry, safe place to sleep, clothes and shoes for warmth and meds when sick but those are survival needs. Beyond these basic needs there’s a step up in consumption which enriches life – a bottle of wine with dinner, hobby and craft supplies and tools, sports equipment, the occasional CD if you’re into physically owning your music and not  just MP3s. We all consume if consumption means buying goods and services we actually need for basic survival.

Over-consumption or consumerism is an attachment we have to Stuff when we attempt to meet emotional or social status needs and desires through the act of shopping as an abstract activity.

Over-consumption then involves taking more than a fair share of planetary resources, making us in turn directly responsible for global heating climate change, openly recognized today by all but the most ardent sceptics.

If every human on the planet consumed at the rate of our North American peers, here’s a sample of the number of planet earth’s worth of bio-captivity that would be needed: at USA rate - 5.4 earths, Canada 4.2, UK 3.1, Germany 2.5, Italy 2.2, South Africa 1.4, Argentina 1.2, Costa Rica 1.1, India 0.4 planet earths.

Consumerism Origins            How did consumerism come about? Consumerism was not an inevitable evolution of society nor was it an accidental development. It came about at the beginning of the 1900s / 20th century as a result of a convergence of four historic forces: a body of ideas (based on the Judeo-Christian bible and the Protestant work ethic) that the earth was ours for the taking; the rise of modern John Adams Wealth of Nations style capitalism; steam driven technological cleverness; and a bounty of North American raw resources.

To put this more simply - in Canada and the USA there were lots of resources, especially after 1900 that we thought were ours to exploit as we deemed fit and we invented new methods like the assembly line. These were an extension of the coal and steam powered Industrial Revolution and a shift from hand-crafted to steam driven mass production assembly lines to generate lots of cheaper stuff. Fossil fuels – coal, oil & gas took over from human and animal power as the driving force.


1913 -  auto chassis hand built = 12.5 hours per car

1914 - assembly line auto chassis = 1.5 hours per

1970 - computer power = $12,000 per 1 MB

2001 - computer power =  2¢ per 1 MB

We had the choice to work less and produce the same amount as before OR work the same amount and produce far more cheap crap, stuff and things as possible. We chose the latter. The ultimate result was that we’ve produced a huge amount of waste. Between 1983, Tee’s birth year, and 2008 a 25 year span, self-storage in Canada increased by 630%.

Planned Obsolescence is the concept of throw away products accompanied by new / improved advertising methods. Today’s ads are far more sophisticated and socially endemic through product placement within media - TV, movies, video game backgrounds & celebrity endorsement ‘news items’ - e.g. Kim Kardashian Loves Her BlackBerry. Cash strapped schools have been inundated with products and related advertising to supplement operating costs.

The clothing fashion industry is planned or perceived obsolescence purely as capitalist driven marketing for profit, actively achieved through advertising and passively promoted by fashion industry cheerleader experts – those who make a living deciding what’s in style and what is arbitrarily no longer hip and fashionable. It’s all bull-shite!

Keurig 2.0 - Obsolence BS            Keurig originally neglected to properly patent their coffee cartridge system. As a result, other companies began producing cheaper knock-offs. Keurig then modified their new model simply adding a patented bar code reader into the machines. Keurig alone can sell the patented newer cartridges maintaining control of pricing and blocking out more economical 3rd parties. Keurig added a few more minor changes to the machine and now market the entire system as New and Improved when in fact the only real difference is that no one else can legally sell cartridges that will work with it. Each of the countless billions of tiny cartridges now adds to the growing mountains of ocean clogging plastic trash vortex. Ingredients: coffee and assorted flavouring chemicals. Yummm!

City Core Destruction            Consumerism developed hand in hand with the sub-urban mall. For-profit, maximized Capitalism developed in five ways:

1. A move toward credit – buy now pay later – 1920s;

2. Replacement of street cars by automobiles – 1930s

     allowing easy  access to strip mall shopping - 1950s;

3. A switch to big box stores gutting city cores - ’50s;

4. Systematized planned shorter life obsolescence - ’60;

5. Advertise, Advertise, Advertise - 20th Century

Home Front            Modern disposability started with razors and diapers. It makes far more sense to buy a good razor and replace only the blades as needs be but somehow we now think its okay to throw away razors, plastic handle and all by the trillions - it’s just more convenient. The everyday use of disposable diapers only and the Swiffer mop are just sheer environmental tree wasting craziness but a huge money maker for the market. Swiffers must be changed frequently each time, to meet their mandated claims of cleanliness and are many many times more expensive in the longer run than a regular washable mop-head. ‘Sucked in consumers!

Global Warming Alarm?  RELAX!            We’re all becoming more aware that climate change global heating is “Just the way it is!” and we should “… just get used to it!”  However, this does not preclude the fact that we should and can prepare ourselves and our families for the related more frequent ferocious wind storms, floods, droughts, fires, snow-fall, and massive associated costs.

In November 2014, the UN officially announced that climate change is pretty much manmade and damn the Stephen Harper / Kevin O’Leary type anti-science sceptics. The UN said we must act quickly, preferably yesterday to mitigate climate costs related to human suffering. Right after that they announced that the next critical international meeting is scheduled to be held in Paris, France December 2015. By then a brand new US President will commit to nothing. Very likely a tar-sands backed, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (Liberal or Conservative) Canadian government will also commit to very little or nothing in ending fossil fuel subsidies / carbon reduction / alternate energy. We love to drive our cars and keep our homes overly warm – so we are all down with that. If Harper is once again PM he will likely not attend yet again. India and China will continue to use massive amounts of fossil fuels to produce our crap, stuff and things for a decade until we perhaps finally repatriate their production back here at home. We can only hope that will be just the way it is.

Oh wait! NEWS Flash!!                         November 12, 2014 – “Surprising USA – China climate deal!”  Obama announced they will start reducing emissions by 2030. Meanwhile, on the same day, US climate scientists announced that more frequent climate change induced storms means that there will be more lightening. Great! Lightening is a critical part of the nitrogen cycle. Lightening frees nitrogen from the atmosphere wherein it is delivered to the ground through rain entering the soil and thus feeds plants as an essential growth element. Food crops we depend on rely on this cycle, therefore – yay! More food? Maybe!

STUFF            Our homes are now basically garbage processing centres. That shiny prized new possession initially prominently displayed and cared for is eventually stored on shelf or in cupboard then storage box in basement, then out to pre-waste storage garage and eventually recycled if it’s lucky. The new car is vacuumed, washed and waxed weekly – then not so much. BTW – the least used appliance is the bread maker but I’ll bet the Keurig will eventually be the second least used kitchen appliance.

The Waste Stream in North American - solid waste makes up 2.5%; construction / demolition waste 3%; industrial waste (including mining, smelting and tar sands tailings – 94.5%

Average Waste Pounds per Person / Day     USA 4.6 lbs each / Australia 2.7 / Japan 2.58 / Norway 2.3 / Canada 1.79 * / UK 1.6 / France 1.45 / China 0.70     (*includes tar-sands and mining which like Australia are substantial in Canada and integrally responsible for our standard of consumer driven living).

Bizarre Black-Friday & Storage Wars            Only here in North America            could there be a sporting activity known as Black Friday when we get excited to shop at American Thanksgiving for shopping’s sake. When this activity is put hand-in-hand with a TV show about chocker-block overflowing abandoned storage lockers – Storage Wars, it can only spawn thoughts of bizarre stupid human behaviour.

Living & Dying Well