Sunday, 20 April 2008

gross inequality

Lately our local council has been conducting "clean-ups"- special removal of household waste. And so piles of "waste" - furniture, electrical goods, some building materials, etc - appear fleetingly on footpaths outside homes awaiting pick up and disposal.

One interesting outcome is the number of people scavenging through these streetside piles of discarded items looking for items they can use - building materials, scrap metal, furniture and toys that can be repaired, etc.

It's encouraging that some of the "rubbish" is recycled and re-used, but it points up the fact that our affluent society discards what would be treasured in a poorer society. Somehow we have reached a stage where either:

  • we are so affluent we can afford to jettison products before their useful life ends because we want to upgrade to a more fashionable or better featured product, or
  • we buy poor quality products that need replacing too quickly.

It all leaves a sour taste. There is such inequality in the world that we get to spend money on less-than-necessary stuff that we'll junk all too soon, while elsewhere people starve or struggle.

Then comes news of another burden our western society is placing on poorer countries. I have read in the past how subsistence farmers can be trapped into converting to cash crops, and then fall victim to fluctuating prices, uncertain markets and rip-off practices, and end up worse off than before.

Now it is being reported that the increased interest in biofuels in rich western countries, to prop up our petrol habits, is resulting in some former food crops having greater value as fuels, thus raising the price of food. Experts are predicting that, while many farmers may benefit financially as a result, many of the world's poorest may find foods becoming priced beyond their means.

Our western society already has en environmental footprint many times what the world can bear. Here is another way we impose ourselves on the more powerless, by denying them a productive life to feed our insatiable lust for self comfort.

George W Bush once famously said that the "American way of life is not negotiable". But unless we create some miracles of energy, water and food production and usage, the only choices will be for all of us in the west to accept a lower material standard of living, or cause great hardship and suffering to those worse off than ourselves.

Not a nice message, but necessary to consider.


  1. forget about different societies, how about different neighborhoods.

    our house backs up to a community of horse farms and million dollar homes. its a nice place to go for a walk each day - it was a selling point for our house.

    i've discovered that their trash is my treasure. once a month the "richy-riches" throw out their bulk garbage, and i take a tour to see if there's anything interesting.

    i've scored a refrigerator, washer/dryer, big screen tv, treadmill, grill, etc....

  2. That's amazing.

    It's a bit different with us. Certainly many homes are way more opulent than ours, but I feel we are still part of the problem. It's very hard not to be.

  3. Eric,
    You might might this little short-film interesting ( just another little attempt to make awareness of just how much our need and disposal of "stuff" is having a detrimental effect on the world; it really makes me sad to think there are people sitting in offices for big corporations coming up with ways to make products easily breakable/out-dated so they have to be constantly replaced. I think us as consumers have to be putting more pressure! And support local producers and quality over the cheap and perhaps more easily accesible? Still, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts!

    Emily x

  4. I agree about paying a bit more for something better made - I didn't use to do that, but I do now much more.

    But in a way, the way we do it is appropriate for our culture and our times. We are much more inclined, as a society, to treat people and relationships as "throwaway" items. Likewise we are more likely to keep on leaving behind interests and activities in favour of something new and "the latest thing". Not all of us, but many.

    I think we may need to make the change in more areas than just consuming - somehow I feel another blog post coming on sometime!


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.