The Power of Shopping Locally

Since the dawn of capitalism, the earth has been suffering. Pollution and climate change are an omnipresent challenge that the world is facing right now. As a community we need to start consuming less and smarter. Capitalists have convinced consumers that there is only one way to shop, that only benefits them. While capitalists have a monopoly over consumer consumption, there are still some other types of markets that are not major contributors to climate change; the D system, and local farmers markets. System D is an economic system that is considered “off the books”, it isn’t illegal but is considered to be an illicit economy. System D economies can be found all over the world, mainly in underdeveloped or developing countries. While it is difficult to find a system D economy in the United States there are other ways to consume products that are not produced by capitalism- farmers markets. Local farms contribute less than 1% to pollution each year. Furthermore shopping at a local farmers market will help turn the linear commodity chain into more of a closed loop commodity chain. In order to cut down on consumption we need to start shopping locally.   

It is no secret that climate change is a very large issue that our world is facing right now. With the omnipresent fear of global temperatures rising above two degrees Celsius, we must do something in order to create change. At the local scale, the change does not need to be something drastic, instead it can be small simple changes. These changes could be as simple as starting to buy your groceries at your local farmers market. 

There are endless benefits to shopping at a local farmers market, you will save money, eat healthier foods, generate less waste, and ultimately consume less. When you shop at a local farmers market, you are surrounded by organic and non-GMO foods. Most small farmers pride themselves on the fact that their produce is pesticide free. Because these farmers don’t use chemicals on their crops, no chemicals are accidentally polluted into the earth. On top of the fact that the food at the farmers market is healthier, shopping at the local farmers market is also much better for the environment in general. On average “fresh produce” consumed in the United States, first travels over 1,500 miles. If more people began to get their food from local farms, it would ultimately save hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil. Shopping locally also helps consumers cut down on plastic use. Most farmers markets use paper bags or encourage shoppers to bring their own bags. This results in the use of plastic decreasing significantly, causing a positive impact on our environment.

Capitalism does not want small local farmers markets to succeed, because this would mean that the small business farmers are surviving without the government imposed subsides  large corporate farmers benefit from. But when consumers spend their money at a local farmers market they are truly paying for the quality of the food. Large corporate farms are all subjects in a linear commodity chain, the food is grown, then shipped to where it is packaged, then shipped to ware houses where it is stored until it is finally shipped and distributed to different store all over the world. After the food is consumed, the packaging is then thrown out and the waste travels to a landfill. By shopping locally consumers support a closed loop commodity chain which creates little to no waste. Local farmers grow the fresh produce, travel a very short distance to the farmers market where their product is sold in very little to no packaging. After the consumer consumes the product there is virtually no waste. By shopping at your local farmers market, you will by fault start to consume less due to the fact that there is significantly less waste than at a corporate grocery store.  

Experts have predicted that if we continue to consume as we do today, with the same levels of CO2 emissions, by the end of the century global temperatures will rise above 7 degrees Celsius since the industrial revolution. This would be catastrophic for the earth. Something needs to be done. Capitalism and industrialized countries are considered the undisputed largest contributors to climate change. International governments seem to acknowledge the fact that there is a very large environmental issue at hand; however, the largest contributors to the problem do not seem to be doing anything at all to stop it. This puts a heavy burden on individuals to combat climate change. By cutting down on consumption it will ultimately result in the reduction of pollution by capitalism and the industrialized countries that promote the unhealthy habits created by capitalists.  

Shopping at local farmers markets have a ton of pros and very little cons. You will save money, help the environment, you would be supporting local farmers, and you would not be supporting capitalism. The only real downside is that your food might not look as pretty as it would in a grocery store. This is because local farmers markets do not use chemicals to make their food appear to be fresh. So while you food doesn’t look as good, it is much healthier for you and free of any chemicals.  

By shopping at local farmers markets, consumers are producing less waste, promoting a closed loop commodity chain, and supporting local farmers rather than large corporate companies. At the same time consumers are reaping the benefits of a better quality of food and saving money. With global temperatures still rising and no plan in place to keep temperatures down, it does not look like the UN is going to meet their goal of keeping global temperatures from rising above two degrees Celsius. The environment needs help, and before it is too late consumers need to do their part in saving the environment. In the end, the easiest way to help the environment is to cut down on consumption, and the easiest way to cut consumption is to shop locally.

Reducing Waste Throughout Your Day

Many of us have set routines to navigate through our days, whether we recognize them or not. However, few realize the amount of waste created throughout those routines. In the shower, no one really stops to think about what we do with the plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles when they’re empty or how much water is wasted waiting for the shower to get warm. What about the single-use k-cups for a Keurig coffee maker or the plastic water bottle taken to class or work? What about the amount of food thrown away after dinner? The point is that, there are many ways to reduce waste through the daily routines that we have.

               These little decisions in everyday life are not the driving force of this accumulation of waste. In reality, this accumulation is a product of a capitalist economic structure that requires this level of waste production from those participating in it, just so they can survive. One of the major issues within capitalism is the drive to expand, or globalization. This forces companies to have their products made in other countries where the labor and production process is cheaper. This results in exploitation of labor and depletion of resources in that country. Also, due to the number of miles these products have to travel, there is also energy waste created in travel. The cheaper labor fosters the “throw away culture” that the United Stated currently has and makes it more affordable, in some cases, to buy a new product than to fix a current one. Also, this depletion of resources in the countries that US companies outsource to forces them to rely on the production businesses to essentially run their economies. This gives the powerful countries a lot of economic control over the weaker countries who are losing resources. Most of the countries where this production is a key to their economic prosperity are underdeveloped and, with their economic authority given to other countries, will most likely never become fully developed or will take a very large amount of time to be able to be fully developed.

               Even though the products of a capitalist economy and perpetuation of that structure contribute to the amount of waste produced, there are steps that people can take in their every day lives that can reduce waste produced by the individual. Buying coffee from a coffee shop in the morning is a typical practice for most Americans, however this creates an enormous amount of waste around the world. Starbucks uses over four billion paper cups each year and most end up in landfills due to the combination of paper and plastic. Starbucks released a statement on the ability to recycle their plastic and paper cups:

“Recycling seems like a simple, straightforward initiative but it’s actually quite challenging. Our customers’ ability to recycle our cups, whether at home, at work, in public spaces or in our stores, is dependent upon multiple factors, including local government policies and access to recycling markets such as paper mills and plastic processors.

Some communities readily recycle our paper and plastic cups, but with operations in 75 countries, Starbucks faces a patchwork of recycling infrastructure and market conditions. Additionally, in many of our stores landlords control the waste collection and decide whether or not they want to provide recycling. These challenges require recycling programs be customized to each store and market and may limit our ability to offer recycling in some stores.”

Coffee companies are addressing the inability to recycle their cups, but one could eliminate that waste by taking a reusable cup to a coffee shop. In Starbucks now, they sell reusable cups specific for their brand. Although Starbucks is only one example, I believe replacing single use cups with re-usable ones, and using that strategy for other food or single-use items, can be applied in many other facets of life.

 

 

In the work place and school, a lot of paper waste is created. Buying recycled paper products and keeping recycle bins in convenient places around the office or school are techniques that could reduce this waste. Also buying energy efficient technology would curb energy waste. The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) is a “tool created to help institutional purchasers in the public and private sectors evaluate, compare, and select desktop computers, notebooks, and monitors based on their environmental attributes”. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPEAT certified products “must meet environmental performance criteria that address: materials selection, design for product longevity, reuse and recycling, energy conservation, end-of-life management and corporate performance”.

For college students, this can be an even bigger challenge due to the lack of access to stores and transportation. However, there are a multitude of ways to reduce waste in a college setting. From packaging-free shampoo bars and sustainable dental floss, to bringing your own cups to parties instead of using plastic cups, “Trash is For Tossers” provides many guides, tips, and tricks to reducing waste in one’s life.

Unfortunately, the lifestyle that reduces waste is not the most accessible one. The “zero waste” lifestyle is a privileged lifestyle. Not every person has accessibility to the resources that help this life choice or the money to be able to attain those resources like reusable produce bags or washable straws. Also, some don’t have the privilege of an education that teaches them about this lifestyle or the hazards of waste produces by other lifestyles.

Working toward reducing waste is a noble effort and an honorable goal. However, it is still a difficult process to adopt due to the wasteful culture we live in. There are many ways to reduce waste in multiple life settings, but it is important to remember that one does not have to, and is usually not able to, switch these habits completely in a short amount of time. Attempting to reduce and being conscious of waste production is important and is becoming necessary to sustain our planet but be patient with the process. Everyone wants a chance to save the world, and through waste reduction efforts, you can get that opportunity. Remember, every day, that you can take steps to save the world.

The Battle of Capitalism: A Struggle Between Profits and Welfare

One of the key driving forces of our economy is profit. The central goal of companies in a capitalist economy is to make the most profit, whether that is economically efficient or not. Large companies find many ways in which they can increase profits. Unfortunately, a lot of the strategies that result in the largest increases are the ones that push large prices onto other peoples and societies. These prices are called externalized costs, meaning they are costs to other people, governments or the environment. The externalized costs of a profit motivated economy have significant impacts on the environment, both directly and indirectly. This blog will focus on how these costs affect the environment specifically through threats to biodiversity (variance of life in the world, particular habitats, or ecosystems).

President Trump recently addressed the United Nations and claimed that the US has the “fastest growing economy in the world”, as seen in this New York Times article. While this is an exaggeration, we do have one of the fastest growing, and many people rarely stop to ask the cost from which this growth is coming. Efforts to increase profits and boost the economy for one company or entity leads to a lessened quality of life for others. By this I mean, to increase profits, companies either directly or indirectly contribute to the destruction and harm to our environment.

These externalized costs can be shown in many ways. For example, the world’s population of vertebrates has decreased rapidly since globalization became popularized. The main threats to biodiversity are also debated, but the ones generally agreed upon are habitat loss, pollution, invasive species, and overharvesting or overexploitation. These contribute the profit motive of our economy because they are the least expensive ways of attaining or disposing of resources. An example would be companies dumping waste into rivers. Because they are not economically responsible for the damage they are causing to the environment, this is the cheapest disposal of waste they have.

Large companies from core (powerful) countries use globalization as a way to externalize costs by continually extracting raw materials from periphery (weaker) countries. In many cases, this leads to deforestation and the collapse of smaller ecosystems. The picture below is an example of this deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest from an article by multiple professors and students at Penn State University.

These cases of deforestation result in losses of habitats. Other causes of these losses of habitats are mining, agriculture, industrial activities, and water extraction. The type of habitat loss demonstrated by the visual above is called Habitat Fragmentation, or large losses of a habitat but not an all-around loss.

Pollution is another externalized cost of capitalism and the need it creates to make the highest profits possible. Toxic substances and chemicals are released into the environment as waste from production processes and can have fatal impacts on entire species. Even natural substances can become toxic in large amounts or high concentrations in small areas. Bioaccumulation is a process through which pollutants become more and more condensed in animals’ tissue and then these pollutants travel through the food chain and contaminate other animals. For example, when a killer whale consumes fish that have received these chemicals, the whale also takes them on in high concentrations. Any animal high up on the food chain is at risk for these contaminants, including humans.

The issue of invasive species occurs when animals and plants move into new areas. This can effect the occupying species in harmful ways. The new species can be parasitic to the resident ones or can be predators upon them. They can also bring new diseases and microbes which could cause depletion of the species and modify habitats. An example of this could be, the frim borders between countries interrupting migratory patterns of wildlife. The wall that president Trump continually refers to and the fence that is currently on the border between Mexico and the US are not only impractical but harmful to the ecosystem. The animals that attempt to cross the border while following typical migration patterns are derailed by these barricades          and are forced into new areas which can cause an invasive species issue.

Over-exploitation is another cost of capitalism externalized onto other places and species. Examples of over-exploitation are “targeted hunting, gathering, or fishing for a particular species as well as incidental harvesting” as shown in this article. Especially with species that are delicately balanced, slight over-exploitation could lead to the breakdown of that population. Also, if the species that collapsed is a primary predator to those lower on the food chain, it can lead to an overpopulation of prey in the ecosystem.

All of the cases explained above are consequences of capitalism and the push on companies to drive prices down and profits up. More often than not, multiple of these side effects occur at once, attacking ecosystems from many sides and resulting in increased or expedited destruction.

Some organizations have attempted to curb this product of capitalism by devoting time, energy, and money into biodiversity conservation efforts. In this report by the Overseas Development Institute, the arguments for conservation are summarized, but the specific economic argument is that profits would increase because the “output from land is greater when biodiversity is conserved”. Also, through the destruction of biodiversity, “unknown biochemical and genetic resources” that could be beneficial and of value are being destroyed.

However, some believe that threats to biodiversity are not valid and the efforts to counteract these losses are a waste of time and money. Their argument is that, while protection for the environment is necessary, it is not enough to make a difference. The main cause of threats to biodiversity, as stated in this BBC article, is that human consumption is exceedingly high for the resources this planet has to offer. Their primary issue with the conservation efforts is that they focus too much on protected areas and not on the root cause of over consumption.

Capitalism, and the influence it has on our society, have brought along with them many costs that are then externalized in order to drive prices down and increase profits. In many cases, these costs are imposed on the environment. While this may not immediately affect the welfare of humans, habitat loss, pollution, invasive species, and over-exploitation have serious consequences. These factors are limiting resources and are leading to collapses of ecosystems and species. If this loss is not stifled, eventually it will lead to a mass extinction which humans might not be able to survive.