Consumption: conspicuous and collaborative

Here’s another TED talk, this time from Australia, on the topic of consumption.

The speaker, Rachel Botsman, talks about a new form of consumption that might help us deal with the Ponzi scheme of an “economy built on hyper-consumption.” It’s an odd thing that growth is always considered good in the business pages, and yet we also know that growth must eventually hit hard limits and stop. The fish can’t get bigger than the fish tank. Both of these things are true, and yet fitting them into a single historical trajectory is a painful thought exercise. What does a steady state economy look like? How would we get there? How do we transition from, in the words of Kenneth Boulding, a cowboy economy to a spaceman economy?

Plenty of people have been wrong in the past about exactly where we would hit the limits of growth. Have we hit peak oil or not? It’s hard to tell. But the fact that we may not have hit peak oil yet doesn’t mean that peak oil is a meaningless concept. Limits exist. The fish can’t get bigger than the fish tank, full stop. So it’s worth thinking about how to limit consumption while still having a pleasant life.

Rachel Botsman calls this collaborative consumption, which I think is a dandy phrase, but it’s really the thing we used to call “sharing.” And admittedly, in comparison to the big problems we face these days, this is pretty small potatoes. But it’s a step in the right direction, and crucially, I noticed that I was doing some of these things. I’m using Freecycle and eBay to at least stretch the economic value of things I might otherwise have thrown out. It feels good, and having dipped my toes in the water, I hope to do more.

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