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Kunstler: Stop Calling Americans “Consumers”
Joe Romm, 30 Jun 09

I was at a small meeting on peak oil Friday — Executive Summary:  We’re peaking now!

James Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency, was there.  He is in the Mad Max/Lovelock/Wall-E school of dystopia, and so I have a number of disagreements with him (see “Why I don’t agree with James Kunstler about peak oil and the “end of suburbia“).

He did, however, say one thing that really strike a chord.  He said we should stop calling Americans “consumers.”  It pigeonholes all Americans and also becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

That seems to me a reasonable point, and I will endeavor to make a change.  Indeed, I had previously blogged that the U.S. savings rate was on the rise, it looks like U.S. carbon dioxide emissions peaked in 2007, President Obama was making a big ush toward making America a nation of creators as opposed to consumers, and I asked “Is the U.S. consumption binge over?

The figure above is from the NYT business blog, Economix, which has a longer-term, glass-is-half-empty perspective in a post titled, “Savings Rates Rising Toward Mediocrity“:

The Bureau of Economic Analysis announced that personal savings rates rose again in May. Americans saved 6.9 percent of their after-tax income last month, the highest rate in 15 years.

Is that impressive? Not particularly, at least in historical terms. In fact, it’s about equal to the average savings rate of the last 50 years:


Well, I’m a glass-is-half-full type of person — or, rather, like my old friend Amory Lovins, I’m a glass-is-twice-as-big-as-it-needs-to-be person.  So rather than focusing on the past, I’ll stick with Obama’s optimism about the future from his big speech on science and R&D last month — “Our future on this planet depends on our willingness to address the challenge posed by carbon pollution,” vows “we will exceed [R&D] level achieved at the height of the space race”:

I want us all to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it’s science festivals, robotics competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent — to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.

I would also note that in Dale Carnegie’s uber-bestseller How to Win Friends and Influnce People, in Section Four “How to be a leader:  How to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment,” he has a chapter titled, “Give a Dog a Good Name.”  Bottom line:  People live up — or down — to expectations, and the naming of things matters.  [Yes, I know, calling ourselves "homo sapiens sapiens" didn't take.]

So, while it may just be a small thing, instead of using the term “American consumers,” I’ll just try to stick with “Americans.”

This piece originally appeared in Climate Progress.

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Stop calling "People" "Americans"?

Or to put it another way, stop talking about Americans as though they're the only people who matter...

... not you personally, obviously. It is a tendency across the entire internet afterall, but there is this site (for example) called "World Changing" where you'd think the "World" bit would mean that you wouldn't get posts that are all "Americans this, Americans that", as though the rest of the world really cares what you call them... but there it is. It seems you do.

Posted by: Nick Taylor on 30 Jun 09

On a related note, we no longer refer to "citizens", just to "taxpayers" in political discussion. "Taxpayer" seems to connote a sense of entitlement ("I paid my taxes, therefore . . .") "Citizen" connotes a sense of responsibility (participating beyond paying taxes) as well as of rights.

Posted by: Ed on 1 Jul 09

Oh, well, you should check an excelent note in Counterpunch by Michael Hudson about the real meaning of this raise in personal saving.

Posted by: Sergi on 1 Jul 09

I'm struggling with the question of how to deal with the climate catastrophe when you are a pessimist. The more aware of the various components of ecosystem collapse, the more certain I am that there is no hope for anything other than a return to the brutal struggle for survival.

Humanity could probably resolve the technological challenges involved with the various ecosystem disruptions, if we were willing to make significant changes to behavior. However I don't see that happening on a large enough scale until we're forced to, and by that time it will almost certainly be too late.

However I know I'm a pessimist, and so can try to convince myself to distrust my logic. But mostly the only tool I've found to keep me away from severe depression is to try to minimize my footprint and try to force myself to blot out thinking about the current ecosystem disruptions.

Posted by: Diane on 1 Jul 09

Thank you! I have been ranting about this for a couple of years. I find it very offensive to be called a consumer. I do not exist solely to purchase products and then throw them out. What's worse, most people I have expressed this perspective to are befuddled by my annoyance. They fully see themselves as consumers and are usually unable to see why this is an offensive moniker. In the Dictionary "consume" is defined as: To do away with completely, destroy, to spend wastefully, squander, use up, etc.
Call me a person, a human, a woman, a citizen. These are labels I can embrace.

Posted by: Stella on 1 Jul 09

Please stop calling "US people" "Americans"!
You are not the only ones living in this continent! I know its a somewhat historic tendency across the entire planet, but lets just give it an effort when posting, specially when talking about "world" changing (thnx Nick Taylor)...

Posted by: Michelle on 8 Jul 09

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