Pestering the consumer won't solve environmental problems

19 August 2008

Pestering the consumer won't solve environmental problems

Official state planners concerned with environmental questions have advised the government that climate and sustainability targets will not be met. This is predictable, as the political elite have for the most part left the ball in the individual consumer's court rather than with those who produce and import this mess wholesale. Pollution has to be tackled at source.

Remi Poppeby Remi Poppe, Member of Parliament for the SP

Politicians like Diederik Samsom, environmental high priest of the PvdA (Labour Party), insist that it's the consumer who must act. That we must become more conscious when we are shopping for whatever: don't buy a jacuzzi, take note of energy labels, watch your standby lights, check your meat, eggs and dairy products for their origins and production methods, watch out for products with too much packaging, check whether the pack is biodegradable, check your car's CO2 emissions, put on a woolly jumper when your sitting indoors and set the heating lower. If it was up to such politicians and some people in the environmental movement we would all have to make it our daily task to ensure the sustainability of our lifestyles.

For half a century it has been held up before us that only keeping the money rolling would enable the growth of our prosperity. That we must spend and buy as much as possible. For the same reason, seldom is anything laid in the path of the producers. They can manufacture whatever they like: environmentally unfriendly cars, televisions that can only be put on standby and never switched off, jacuzzis, and cakes with four layers of packing. And so daily container loads of environmentally unfriendly products arrive on our shores. This rubbish is then sold by whatever means, as the daily bombardment of advertising ensures. The political elite saddles the individual consumer with a task which is much too heavy for him or her to bear: to resist all temptations, for the sake of future generations and the planet as a whole. The climate problem is primarily the consumer's fault, and the Green Church has warned us!

In the autumn, discussion will begin on "Non Trade Concerns": all of the interests connected. to production and trade which are not strictly economic, such as child labour, slavery, health implications, the protection of nature, and environmental pollution. It must be recognised that, in relation to each of these important topics, responsibility does not lie principally with the individual consumer. The focus must be switched from consumption to production and import. Banning bad products will work much better than all that messing about with energy labels, which even the sellers can't get the hang of. Make the use of biodegradable plastic compulsory for all packaging of foodstuffs. Make importers prove that their tropical hardwood garden furniture has not been produced at the cost of virgin forest. Make energy corporations demonstrate that their palm-oil is produced according to established criteria. Make manufacturers prove that their cocoa beans are harvested without recourse to slave labour, or that their soya has not resulted in the driving out of local communities in Brazil. They can't manage these things? Tough, because then we won't be offering them a market for their dubious products. The problem of the environment will not be solved by forcing the consumer to adopt a Spartan, eco-centric lifestyle, but by tackling the issues involved at source.

This article first appeared in the Dutch regional newspaper, De Gelderlander, of 19th August 2008.

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