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Synthesis/Regeneration 47   (Fall 2008)

The Economics of Less Stuff and Better Lives

by Ben Wuloo Ikari

My approach to discussing the importance of producing less for a better life is simplistic, but critical. Production is a process of making things such as food or clothing. Goods and services are created and distributed to consumers. We are usually more aware of the large corporations involved in manufacturing. But in a simple sense, it involves all of us, because the machines or equipment in these companies don't operate themselves; human beings operate them.

In theory, consumers decide what they purchase. For instance, if a producer manufactures clothing that consumers don't want or need, merchants will return it. If articulated and channeled, consumers' refusal to purchase goods influences production strategy. Therefore, consumers should have quite an influence on what a producer creates.

In practice, we don't seem to have this power because we don't know how strong our influence is and we neglect to use it. What happens when one has something and doesn't know or appreciate it, or ignores and doesn't apply what he/she has, especially wisdom? It means he or she doesn't have that thing. We have power in a broad sense to control what we buy or use. We however allow companies to package things at their discretion and we send them our money. We put their junk in our houses looking at the emptiness of it while the money goes to these companies that continuously produce what we don't really need. They gain twice, even thrice, when we recycle this junk to them - they return it back to us as less quality junk that causes more and more health problems to our children and degrades the environment. The production of oil; petrochemical, food processing, pharmaceutical, auto and other production/manufacturing industries' goods are environmentally unfriendly to say the least.

Therefore, to reduce production, we have to be introspective; we should individually look inwardly and ask ourselves, "How am I contributing to the problem of overproduction that is harming the environment and harming me?" The answer will come quickly; it will be in the form of, "Oh, by my daily activities." Then, another question will surface in the form of, "How do I reduce my consumption of goods and services to help reduce mass production and sustain the global environment?"

... endeavor not to buy more than you need.

And the answer will be: endeavor not to buy more than you need. Even when you buy to help the needy, buy only those quantities and qualities that are needed for that purpose alone. Most times we shop for things we don't need, but to store them - even foodstuffs. The more we buy and don't use, the more the production companies continue to produce. But, should we try from today to buy only as needed at a given time, not as desired, you'd notice that these companies would see a shortfall and study the market before production. We don't have to stop here; we should organize and inform others who aren't here. Enlighten the general public. Tell the people the importance of shopping less, to lessen production for a better life.

Some months ago, a manufacturer reduced its output of SUVs because sales fell. This was caused by exorbitant gas prices. This shows us that if we buy less, they produce less. Outside our own purchases, we can inform others, telling them the importance of shopping for less stuff. If we live our lives according to the wisdom that lower demand brings about lower supply and a better quality of life, we might also lower prices when producers sell their products out.

We must learn to be citizens and not just consumers. Citizens have the power to influence supply if only they know how powerful they are.

Too much of anything, everything, we say is bad. Same applies to the over-usage or overexploitation of natural and human resources, which is mostly to the advantage of multinational corporations, especially Shell Oil, Chevron, Exxon-Mobil, Boeing, automobile manufacturers, food processing, pharmaceuticals, etc., and their government counterparts.

We can change our destiny today, if we come together and pressure these precursors of evil.

We therefore need a big reduction for the sake of our health and the environment. All citizens of the world must come together as genuine stakeholders and stop overproduction, which implies overexploitation and short lifespans. It's high time we tell these folks to stop playing politics with our lives, the animals, plants, and aquatics. The biosphere and ecosystems must be protected and preserved.

The continuous exploitation of natural resources by these non-state actors (in collaboration with state actors) for their interest alone and those of the American government in particular hasn't helped the human inhabitants of the global environment. These companies and governments don't care. They have over the years paid lip services, with no commitment to environmental catastrophes. In so far as their positions remain secure and money keeps flowing, they don't care. Their gimmicks of quixotic experiments continue so long as their interests aren't threatened in any way. We can change our destiny today, if we come together and pressure these precursors of evil. But, as mentioned above, we must start reducing production by reducing our consumption. Despite these hyperexploitations, there are no quality jobs. Poverty has ravaged the whole world while our global wealth revolves in the pockets of a few greedy and bestial ones.

My homeland hasn't benefited in any way from the production of crude oil for over 35 years.

Their reckless activities have caused the extinction of natural habitats, human deaths, river/creek and other water-source pollution. Acute climate changes have occurred - global warming is a huge threat, which is the product of gas flaring and the emission of other greenhouse gases. The need therefore has come, that we revert and commit to "sustainable development."

I'm originally from Ogoni in southeastern Nigeria. My homeland hasn't benefited in any way from the production of crude oil for over 35 years. Africa in general, is still languishing in abject poverty. Poverty has overtaken our blessings, riches that come from oil, gas, uranium, gold, silver, bronze, platinum, and cotton, to mention but few. Companies and federal governments siphon the oil and other wealth (money) and leave the population with acute poverty, an environment charged with hydrocarbons, carbon-dioxide and -monoxide, methane, and radioactive waste.

Peasants have been killed for standing up and demanding a piece of the proceeds that are endowed in their land. They have demanded some benefit from the massive production; yet have received nothing but death. The once wealthy people are gradually facing extinction, considering their physical death, and life in a degraded environment. As a result of these threats, there is no hope for the future. Therefore, Ogoni is struggling to control how many barrels of oil and gas are extracted per day in order to reduce production. We stopped Shell Oil from reentering our oilfields for oil extraction 15 years ago. Global efforts can stop other deadly companies too.

Ogoni will conduct Environmental Assessment, Social and Health Impact Studies which Shell and other producers have refused to do for about 50 years. And Ogoni will plan ahead for the day their endowed resources run out and will transition from an oil based economy to renewable energy sources.

This means the need to diversify from a thickly oil based economy to others, that would less hamper or wouldn't hurt the environment but create more qualitative jobs for its inhabitants, will be paramount in the best interest of the people. Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind etc., will command great attention, hence implementation. It would no doubt contribute to global environmental safety as there will be less emission of carbon-dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons and other greenhouse fumes into the atmosphere.

Therefore, I call on you to individually, and as a group, work toward helping the sustainability of the global environment and living better and longer by reducing the consumption of the things - cars, crude oil/gas, food and clothes, etc. - we use, especially those we don't need. We could and should, however, increase the production of quality food to feed the world against too much processed, chemically based food that has brought unquantifiable illnesses, and the other consumable junk.

This article is based on a talk that Ben Wuloo Ikari gave June 29, 2008 at the Surviving Climate Change Roundtable in St. Louis. Ben Ikari is author of Ken Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP and Inspiration - Speak Your Mind. He is the founder of the Ogoni Children's Cultural And Fundamental Rights Council (OCAFAC).

[9 nov 08]

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