Katherine Martinko, Tree Hugger -A short film called "Forget Short Showers" wants us to replace ethical shopping with fierce activism.
As a lifestyle writer for TreeHugger, I spend my days thinking and writing about ways of reducing one’s personal footprint in the world. Conscious consumerism is the core message in many of the posts I write, urging people to “vote with their money.” I write about the importance of buying ethical and sustainable products, supporting local businesses, minimizing waste, reducing meat, riding a bike instead of driving. I practice what I preach on a daily basis because I believe in the power of these simple actions to create change – and, hopefully, to inspire others to rethink their own lifestyles, too.
Occasionally, though, I encounter something that makes me question my passionate belief in the power of personal change. This happened recently when I watched a video called “Forget Short Showers.” Based on an essay by the same name, written by Derrick Jensen in 2009, the 11-minute film challenges the notion that ‘simple living’ can effect real social change.
As narrator Jordan Brown says, no matter what environmental problem you consider, whether it’s the water crisis, the waste crisis, the emissions crisis, you name it, our personal actions account for very little of what’s going wrong. The vast majority of the problems can be traced back to the industrial economy, which consumes most of the water, generates most of the plastic waste, creates the most emissions, and so on and so forth.
What we do as individuals, he argues, does almost nothing to change the big picture. For example, municipal household waste accounts for only 3 percent of waste in the United States, so what’s the point of encouraging people to go zero waste at home?
Brown identifies four problems with perceiving simple living as a political act.
1) It is based on the notion that humans inevitably harm their land base. This fails to acknowledge that humans can help the Earth.
2) It incorrectly assigns blame to the individual, instead of targeting those who wield power within the industrial system – and the system itself.
3) It accepts capitalism’s redefinition of us as consumers, rather than citizens. We reduce our potential forms of resistance to ‘consuming vs. not consuming,’ despite there being far broader resistance tactics available to us.
4) The endpoint of logic behind simple living as a political act is suicide. If every act within our economy is destructive, and we want to stop this destruction, then the planet would be better off with us dead.