Project #52577 - Our Consumer Culture

  1. In your opinion, is Assadourian’s critique of modern consumer culture an accurate one?  Are his criticisms valid and/or warranted?  What evidence does he use to support his critique, and do you find it to be credible
  2. Which, if any, of the recommendations that Assadourian makes do you find to be reasonable; ones that we could adopt to promote positive cultural change and that would actually help the environment?
  3. Can one have a good life that incorporates ways to protect the environment and practice sustainability?
    Or are these mutually incompatible ideas? Explain.

Our Consumer Culture 

 

       On April 14, 1900, the doors to the Paris World Fair opened.  Over the next seven months, over 50 million visitors toured the fair, a celebration of the technological, scientific, artistic and architectural achievements of the past century, as well as a foreshadowing of what was to come.  In addition to the marvel of the newly constructed Eiffel Tower, visitors were dazzled by the first talking film, grainy and a bit hard to understand, but to many, a far cry from the wooden images of still photography.  Tired and foot sore visitors were able to move about the exhibition on a newly designed moving sidewalk called an escalator.  And an American industrialist and inventor, Dr. John T. Dorrance, won the fair’s gold medal for his discovery of a means to condense soup by halving its water content. An image of the gold medal was promptly slapped on the soup’s label, launching one of America’s great business success stories – the Campbell’s Soup Company. 

 

       The centerpiece of the fair was the largest refracting telescope built to date, stunning the crowds with the sharp images of our nearest celestial neighbors, and its capacity to peer farther into the unknown than anyone had ever dreamed possible.  Coupled with an emergent interest in science fiction novels featuring hostile invaders from Mars and shadowy residents of the moon, many fair goers wondered if mankind finally had achieved the capacity to discover alien residents of distant planets, or maybe, someday, embark on space travel.

 

       Visitors to the Paris World Fair were universally enthralled by the wonders on display, and like those who attended previous world’s fairs, left the grounds eager to embrace these new technologies, yet all the while speculating on what the future would hold.

 

       When the fair closed its doors on November 12, 1900, over 50 million people had toured the exhibits, universally expressing a sense of awe, excitement and anticipation with this impressive display of the potential for the new century. Talking pictures! People movers! Ready to eat meals! As they packed the steam lines, rail cars and ships to return home, these guests of the world’s fair had no way of knowing that these marvels on exhibition would be considered archaic by mid-century. In reality, no one alive in 1900 could possibly have anticipated what was to come. 

 

       During the previous century and a half, industrialization and the rapid growth and implementation of new technologies had changed the economic, social and political landscape of much of the world.  Many people had seen astounding changes in their own lifetimes, a fact that was both exhilarating and unsettling. But it is fair to say that no one who was present at the 1900 World’s Fair could possibly have imagined the changes that would occur over the course of the 20th century.

 

       Among the guests to the World’s Fair were several thousand Americans, most of whom came from urban centers located along the eastern shore of the United States. In many respects, they were distinctly unlike their fellow citizens, the majority of whom were still tied to a rural and agricultural way of life.  These Americans made their own clothes, grew their own food that was stored in root cellars or iceboxes, and cooked on wood stoves. Their homes were lit by kerosene lamps, and correspondence was largely conducted through letters that took interminable lengths of time to reach their destination.  Few people in the rural areas ever traveled any great distance from their homes, but when they did they walked, rode a horse, or tied the horse to a buggy. Disease stalked the population, much of it incurable and deadly, and the average lifespan while improving was still lingering near a short 48 years.

 

       But change was lurking there as well, and by the end of the 20th century, the once iconic image of a rural America laboring on the family farm had all but disappeared, replaced by an urban citizenry, a largely service oriented economy, and a technologically savvy people who move about physically tethered to all manner of electronic devices.  

 

       The scientific discoveries and technological innovations of the 20th century are breathtaking in scope. Never before in human history has change come so rapidly in both how people live and how they conduct the business of their lives. Moreover, the future potential of many of these discoveries to immeasurably benefit the greater good of all seems unlimited. Yet, as we have seen, the pace and substance of change has come at a significant cost to the environment.  

 

      While the benefits of this evolution from an agricultural, rural way of life have been innumerable, scientists also see this as a time of significantly accelerating environmental destruction brought on by a surging population increase, global habitat ruin, and measurable changes in the composition of the atmosphere brought on by the widespread use of fossil fuels and chemicals.  By the end of the 20th century, the scientific community, in a rare moment of universal consensus, began to issue a series of warnings that the end result of this transition was a disturbing and potentially disastrous change in the Earth’s atmosphere, commonly known today as climate change. 

 

       Since the acceleration of these observations in mid 1990s,many have commented on ways to change the way we live in order to offset the worst environmental predictions. And many others have expressed doubts that this could ever be accomplished. These kinds of discussions can at times have a tendency to center around the idea of what does and does not constitute a good life, specifically, all the goods and comforts that in theory we will have to give up to save the Earth.

 

       The author of the article “The Rise and Fall of Consumer Cultures”, Erik Assadourian, has provided a thoughtful commentary on the current state and what he sees as the unsustainable nature of the world’s most active consumer cultures. So for this discussion board, I would like to read the article and answer the questions above.

 

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Due By (Pacific Time) 12/20/2014 12:00 am
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