“Conscious Consumption to Create Change” by Justin


Where does all this stuff we buy actually come from? There are a staggering number of nonrenewable materials and toxic chemical processes that are involved in nearly every single consumer product on the market today. And for all of these things that go into making our stuff, so very little of it is properly disposed of for reuse. Our planet is running out of resources, but the price of consumer goods continues to drop. This is because companies are externalizing costs* so that everyone pays for it, but not just monetarily. The price of most products today, from food to oil, do not reflect their true costs because someone other than the purchaser is paying in some other way for the goods being produced (1). The goods that are being made are created at the expense of the environment, of those in third world countries who are paid next to nothing, and at the expense of the health of every single organism, including humans, who inhabit this planet.


The current system of consumption our global society has invested in is far from a sustainable one. It is digging us deeper into a hole from which we may not be able to escape.The demand for a variety of cheap products continues to go up as our supply of resources decreases, both of which at exponential rates linked to population, industrialization, and consumption (2). This downwards spiral is depleting the Earth and replacing it with garbage.

When a consumer is ready to buy a new computer, the old one is not sent to be stripped down so that the valuable metals they contain might be reused in the next one. Instead, the old one is chucked in the dump and a new one is purchased. Our linear system of extraction, production, distribution, use and disposal results in tons of perfectly reusable resources such as gold, copper and mercury being thrown into a landfill and sealed up for future generations to deal with.

linear system

Computers and phones both are made with many processes and components containing mercury. The average computer contains as much as 0.7 grams of mercury (3), which is vastly higher than the EPA’s minimum “safe” dose of .1 microgram (4). Investigations are finding that many unexpected products, including children’s toys, contain far more mercury and other potentially toxic compounds that could could have potentially devastating and lasting neurological impacts.

The very things we wear are made of synthetics material that can leach toxins into your skin, the air, and the ground. A common detergent used by many brand name textile manufacturers has been proven to affect sexual maturation and reproductive abilities of both the individuals in the factory working with them, and in the consumers who wash them, releasing the chemicals into the water in which all of their clothes are (5). This is a great example of an externalized cost: the shirt you buy at the mall is sold for less money than its total cost because now included in the cost is the price of healthcare for everyone exposed to the toxins, and the loss of productive workers since people are getting sick and having fewer, less healthy children due to the product design decisions made by the producer. The lesson to learn from this is to look into what may be hiding in the products you buy before you contribute to the system that put them there in the first place.

I hope that all of this scares you because it certainly scares us. The good news is that there is a simple way that each of us can contribute to the solution to ensure that humanity can coexist with our planet for generations to come. In order to stop this destructive, linear system of consumption, we must become more conscious of the products we purchase and of the companies who we patronize. By not buying into the current system, we put pressure on corporations to change their selfish ways, and can encourage smaller, environmentally concerned companies to make greater progress in sustainable goods. Next time you’re looking to buy a new computer because yours is not running the latest software, or a new pair of shoes since the old ones are out of style, consider what went into those products and how it affects the entire world just to make a new one. The only way to conserve the limited natural resources we have left is to buy fewer products, and make the most of the ones you do.

Article by Justin Smith

Some additional resources include:

An ethics index of many well known producers of consumer goods

More information about externalized costs

Information about electronics waste

Discussion about the relationship between world human population and environmental decline

More information about mercury

Article about NPE’s and other toxins found in clothing:

A great book that argues to remake the way we make things:

Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.

Please follow and like us:

Meditation and Mindfulness: Origins, Practice, and Tips – Rosie

Learn about the origins, benefits, and practice of Meditation and Mindfulness with a lecture by Rosie Lynch. This lecture was originally presented to members of Sigma Alpha Lambda, JMU’s Co-ed Honors Fraternity for Service, Achievement, and Leadership. Rosie provides an a brief overview of the roots of meditation in Eastern religious traditions like Buddhism and Hinduism and summarizes how mindfulness has become an increasingly popular research interest in the fields of science and medicine with attention to some of its profound health and wellness benefits. She also leads the audience through 3 mindfulness exercises: a short silent meditation, a longer guided meditation, and a simple mindful eating activity. Skip to 10:40 to try out a guided meditation!

Please follow and like us:

“Environmental Initiatives: Things Are Not as They Seem” – Lauren


Entanglement between environmental agencies and large-scale corporations is rampant and largely goes unnoticed.  In her book, “This Changes Everything,” Naomi Klein delves into the murky waters (probably due to pollution) where the natural environment and the corporate environment overlap.  It is no longer a secret that large corporations, especially those in the food and fossil fuel industries, control our government. After all, a government based on capitalism will capitalize where the needs of its consumers are: the food that feeds humans and the fossil fuels that feed essentially everything else.  Laissez faire policies allowed corporations to grow exponentially until they had the power to also control our government.  Now, corporations seek to buy out environmental agencies, and the worst part is that they are succeeding.

One example of this is how a well known environmental agency, The Nature Conservancy, allowed oil companies to drill on their conservation (193).  If a company that supposedly stands for environmental conservation can be bought out at a certain price tag, what does this say about the rest of society?  Most people look to these agencies for leadership and guidance, to solve the climate crisis with their ecologically minded policies.  All trust is lost when an organization exploits what it claims to protect in return for money from the corporations do the most damage to our planet.

captionThis, unfortunately, is not a rare occurrence; other agencies like the Conservation Fund, World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International have accepted money from fossil fuel companies companies like Shell, BP, Exxon, American Electric Power, and other destructive corporations like Walmart, Monsanto, Toyota, and McDonald’s (196).  It is hard to believe that these agencies are fighting to keep global warming under two degrees Celsius when they are accepting money from corporations that will do anything to keep from being regulated.  This money is incentive to publish false articles about climate change, allow for drilling, and falsify records.

Corruption also occurs in the conferences and think tanks that produce environmental platforms for our society and government.  Organizations like the Heartland Institute hold climate change conferences that are primarily funded by fossil fuel companies and “right-wing causes that cannot be fully traced” (44).  The scientists that present at Heartland have received the majority of their funding from fossil fuel companies in the past and the journalists asked to publicize the conference have also received money from the same sources (45).

The entanglement and corruption continues when CEOs claim to act in an environmentally mindful way but still push the free market to its edge by further developing a destructive company.  This is the case for Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Airlines.  In 2006, Branson pledged $3 billion of profits over the next decade toward the development of biofuels, presumably so that he could continue to earn money without having his environmental friendly persona tainted with hypocrisy, seeing as the airline industry has one of dirtiest carbon footprints (231).  Branson never met his $3 billion pledge, nor did he invest in the development of biofuels; yet he was able to double the size of his airline fleet, thus doubling his carbon emissions.  That is the issue with large corporations: the public only sees their proclaimed righteousness while under the surface, their tactics are just as dirty as the fuel they mine and use.

This duplicity seems to be what our country is built upon in recent years.  Food products with GMO’s can be labeled as “natural”; conservancies can drill for oil; whole countries can claim to be “for the people,” when in reality, all they are for is free trade and money.  This is too large and too confounded a task to change by simply recycling and driving a Prius.

In order to overcome the challenges we face, we need to restructure our government and economy to favor small, local business, rather than Big Business.  We need “live within ecological limits,” which means living locally (91).  How can you live sustainably when most the products you purchase come from a place you have never been and of which you do not know the ecological limits?   Scaling things back to the local level will allow people to have greater awareness of where their goods are coming from, the energy and time spent in making them, and how they are disposed.  This awareness may encourage people to consume less, which is a huge factor in staying under a two degree Celsius temperature increase.  Scaling economies back to the local level will likely disrupt the corporate schema and provide communities with more local jobs, and more importantly, jobs with safe conditions and fair wages.  This will decrease social disparities and make the entire economy more equitable.  But in order to do this, there will have to be sacrifice.

mosantoLarge corporations will have to let go of destructive fair trade policies and the only way to do this is through regulation.  Regulation will take the power out of the hands of the few and put back into the hands of the many.  Though Big Business will take the hardest blow, even wealthy middle class consumers will probably feel some of the impacts of regulation.  However, a more equitable economy is the only sustainable option we have as a planet in order to survive comfortably on economic, social, and environmental fronts.

In order to make this “Great Transition” we need large-scale policy changes that force carbon to stay in the ground and even bigger investments in renewable energy (89).  Small individual changes will have to be made for a full economic transition to be successful (91).  By making changes in our consumptions habits, we can directly affect corporations.  Without a hit to their profits, corporations will not change.  The middle class, currently living comfortably, needs to awaken from the daze of the screens that distract us from corporate corruption before it is too late to live comfortably at all.  We cannot wait for a cataclysmic event to force us into third world status and then try to change things. We must act now before it is too late.

Works Cited

Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2014. Print.  

Article by Lauren Wheeler


Please follow and like us: