Book Read: Inconspicuous Consumption

Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don't Know You HaveInconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have by Tatiana Schlossberg

Readers might experience a bit of cognitive dissonance as they move through this book. The message of the book could easily be “If you aren’t experiencing waves of panic, you aren’t paying attention.” But the text reads like the transcript of a comedy routine in many places. Here are a few examples:

As we covered in our section on monocultures that everyone will force their children to memorize because of the beauty of the prose and the fundamental wisdom of the insights, crops that are planted as monocultures are more susceptible to extreme weather events and pests.
(Page 91, in a chapter on food waste)

And what do we do with that excess of stuff that we now have? Do we treasure it and thank our lucky stars that we can buy an imitation Gucci bomber jacket for $10 and kiss the ground and love our parents and their parents for putting us on this verdant, splendid earth? Yep.
(Page 152, in a section on fast fashion)

There are so many things to give the British credit for: scones with cream and jam, Shakespeare, the idea that no one is above the law, ruthless colonialism, warm beer, I could go on.
(Page 186, in a section on using wood as a fuel)

In twenty-four chapters, Schlossberg covers much of our daily lives and activities, from entertainment to shopping to food to fashion to transportation to heating and air conditioning. In short, if we put on clothes, eat breakfast, go to work (even if we’re working from home), eat dinner, or watch a movie before heading off to bed, we’re doing something that in some way is damaging the environment. What’s worse, those of us who are fortunate enough to be considered middle class are damaging the environment in ways that will have a greater effect on those in lower socioeconomic strata.

At the moment it’s a bit harder than usual to focus on the environmental impact of my choices. I read the last chapters of Inconspicuous Consumption one evening. The next morning I was in line outside the local supermarket at 5:55 a.m., waiting to try my luck at finding ten days’ worth of groceries on shelves that had been stripped bare by panic shopping. It was five weeks into the state of emergency declared by the governor of New Jersey to curtail the spread of COVID-19. I’ve ordered things online, from e-tailers that I’ve never done business with before, that I can ordinarily find in the local supermarket. We haven’t had to put gas in our cars for weeks, which is a blessing, but we’ve used more soap and hot water, bleach and paper towels, in those five weeks than we have in the past five months.

On the other hand, It would be easy to pat myself on the back for long practices of composting kitchen scraps, recycling, drinking filtered tap water instead of water from plastic bottles, using reusable grocery bags, and wearing clothes until they are frayed and threadbare (much to my beloved wife’s chagrin). But I leave our WIFI router, cable TV box, digital clock-radios, and other devices that are constantly drawing power plugged in all day, every day. I can do more. I should do more.

I seldom say things like this, but every conscientious American should borrow this book from their local library and read it. It will open eyes and change attitudes. It won’t prescribe behavior or remedies to every concern that Tatiana Schlossberg raises. She admits in several places that there are no easy or obvious solutions, and it is impossible to say that things like e-commerce, fish farming, and large-scale agriculture are completely bad for the planet. But she connects enough dots to allow the reader to draw some pretty firm conclusions in many areas and take appropriate remedial action. She does so in a way that is approachable, not filled with dry statistics, nonjudgmental, and engaging in many places.

Thanks for stopping by.


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