Many people notice the symptoms of the ecological crisis and its tragic consequences. Young people all over the world are especially sensitive in this regard. They organize numerous protests and pickets directed at state governments and local government administration. While their intentions are generally good, their actions seem at least incomplete. On the one hand, the situation requires radical activities of governments and international organizations, and on the other hand, specific local and individual actions of each of us. It is a substantial inconsistency to expect changes from politicians, while we ourselves are not ready to change our lifestyle. It seems that only combined actions of international organizations at the global level, governments at the national level, and individuals at the family and individual levels offer hope for overcoming the ecological crisis. The underlying cause of this crisis is the culture of consumerism. The way to overcome it is to identify the risks associated with the consumerist mentality and shape a culture of moderation. Christianity has significant potential to show the destructive effects of consumer culture and promote a culture of moderation.
1. Consumer culture
Consumer culture results in the primacy of “having” over “being” and reduces man to Homo consumers. Moreover, the widespread culture of consumerism is associated with 1) Neophilia,2) Throwaway culture and 3) Wastefulness. Consumer culture is particularly dangerous to the younger generation who are not yet able to carefully consider the advisability of buying certain goods, and are prone to being “educated” in consumerism through the promotion of certain cultural patterns and fashions prevalent among children and young people.
A good example of neophilia is the constant pursuit of the latest models of electronic gadgets. New devices replace old ones not because they are no longer functional. They are replaced because their users have become bored with them, and because owning the latest models provides them with the comfort of belonging to the elite and increases their self-esteem and sense of being special. Neophilia does not only apply to material goods. This model of functioning is increasingly affecting pets, and even other people. Hence the overcrowded animal shelters, short-lived friendships and marriages, and a severe deficit in deep human relationships. Man formed by the culture of consumerism does not put any effort in establishing lasting relationships as this would entail making commitments, investing time and becoming involved, and may lead to disappointment or frustration. It is much less burdensome and easier to establish one-time relationships through various online platforms which bring together people interested in certain activities or pastimes. As a result, man succumbing to the temptation of a consumer culture simplifies his life, while at the same time making it shallow and superficial, which ultimately results in loneliness and a sense of meaninglessness.
1.2. Throwaway culture
Pope Francis warns against a throwaway culture and the disposable mentality that it engenders. The throwaway culture promotes a utilitarian treatment of objects and people, so that when they are no longer needed, they are treated as waste. Due to the ease of obtaining disposable items, the simplest solutions are often chosen: disposable plastic bags, cups, cutlery, bottles, napkins, etc. Most of today’s children have never even seen cloth handkerchiefs or mended clothes. All of this reaffirms the conviction accompanying consumer culture that everything and everyone may be replaced, that everything has a price and may be bought, and that everything is negotiable. Consequently, it appears pointless to wash a cloth handkerchief, repair damaged clothes or broken devices, make friends, put effort into getting to know one’s neighbors, or even fight for one’s marriage. The disposable mentality deprives objects and people of their exceptionality and uniqueness, so that after being “used” they are treated as waste.
Wastefulness is a direct consequence of throwaway culture and disposable mentality. Today we are witnessing selfish exploitation of the planet’s non-renewable resources which belong to all of its inhabitants, including those who will come to live on it in the future. Today’s generations carelessly use resources that can never be renewed. One of the most distinctive features of the culture of consumerism seems to be a lack of inter-generational responsibility and solidarity. Seduced by the temptation to acquire and possess, a victim of consumerist culture is not only self-centered and refuses to share resources with future generations, but does not even want to share them with those representatives of his own generation who for various reasons have failed to achieve economic success.