EarthBeat Weekly: Can We Overcome Our Society’s Consumer Addiction? | Earth beat

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Editor’s Note: EarthBeat Weekly is your weekly newsletter on faith and climate change. Below, the October 15 edition. To get EarthBeat Weekly delivered to your inbox, sign up here.

When I first moved to Lima, Peru over 30 years ago, water service was unreliable, electricity could be fickle, and many commodities were scarce or very expensive. But if something did break, it was easy to find someone who could fix it – the local shoemaker who mended worn out luggage as well as shoes, the market man who was a wizard with little devices like blenders. , the sisters who could make a heather sweater look new.

The venerable Volkswagen Beetles were everywhere, and if one of them broke down, it seemed like almost everyone knew how to get it back on track.

Then the economy grew, more people had disposable income, and imported goods poured in. Suddenly there were more options, at lower prices. And little by little, the repair shops have disappeared. If something breaks now, the owner is more likely to throw it away and buy a new one.

This process – the same that my parents had witnessed decades earlier in the United States – ushered in the throwaway society that Pope Francis warned against in Laudato Si ‘ and other writings.

We throw away a lot of things, and some are perfectly usable, as several dumpster divers with a conscience have found in New York City. On EarthBeat this week, freelance journalist Whitney Bauck describes how these “trash cans” take to the streets at night to rummage through items thrown away by families, stores and schools, then posting photos of their finds on Instagram.

They included things like books, packs of colored pens, and a globe outside a school; unopened cosmetics and Christmas cards after the holidays, deliberately cut so that they cannot be used, in a pharmacy; and lots and lots of food. Together, they paint a stark picture of a society addicted to consumerism.

Even more alarming is the amount of electronic equipment thrown away each year – in 2019, it stood at 53.6 metric tons, or 16 pounds for every person on the planet, according to “The Global Electronic Waste Monitor 2020” report.

More and more people are buying electronic items like cell phones and computers, which have relatively short lifecycles and are difficult to repair. Asia generates the highest amount of electrical and electronic waste, or e-waste, each year, followed by the Americas, but Europe has the highest per capita rate, according to the report.

Electronic equipment and electrical appliances like refrigerators contain hazardous substances, such as mercury and chlorofluorocarbons, as well as precious elements, including precious metals.

However, only about 17% of this electronic waste is recycled because recycling is expensive, in part because electronic equipment is not designed for recycling. So, although the raw materials of e-waste generated in 2019 were worth some $ 57 billion, only about $ 10 billion was recovered through recycling.

We don’t know what happens to the rest. Some discarded items go to landfills, where they can contaminate soil or groundwater, and others are dismantled by informal recyclers who put their health and that of their families at risk through exposure to hazardous substances.

Discarded refrigerators and air conditioners can be a source of greenhouse gases if not handled properly, and unrecycled electronics indirectly contribute to global warming, as new materials have to be mined and manufactured to replace them.

The number of countries with e-waste laws and regulations increased from 61 in 2014 to 78 in 2019, but more needs to be done to create incentives to increase recycling, according to the report’s authors. .

“An economic system detached from ethical concerns does not bring a fairer social order, but rather leads to a culture of consumption and waste of the ‘throwaway’, Francis told business leaders in 2019. Unfortunately, this culture will persist. until the world’s economy is structured so that what we pay for goods and services reflects their environmental and social costs, as well as parts and labor.

This would almost certainly increase the prices of many products, but it would also make us more careful stewards. And maybe then we would look for the shoemaker, the knitter or the repairman of small household appliances instead of throwing away used objects, where the dumpsters remind us of our excesses.


Here are the other new features on EarthBeat this week:

  • In Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, India, the Sisters of the Medical Mission cultivate food, welcome all creatures (except mosquitoes) and take care of Mother Earth, wrote Céline Paramundayil for Global Sisters Report.
  • Also at GSR, international correspondent Chris Herlinger describes how the global food system has developed even more inequitable during the pandemic.
  • Now that Pope Francis will not go to COP26, Father Jesuit. Thomas Reese suggests that the pontiff send Greta Thunberg in her place. Meanwhile, Thunberg said she was “open” to meeting US President Joe Biden in Glasgow, writes Mark Hertsgaard for The Nation as part of the Covering Climate Now consortium.
  • And meeting with parliamentarians from around the world in Rome ahead of COP26, Francis urged them to put aside partisan politics and quickly reach consensus on tackling climate change, Frances D’Emilio reports for The Associated Press.
  • Although Francis has come to be known as the environmentally conscious pope, all the pontiffs of the past half century – except John Paul I, who died after only a month in office – have spoken and written on environmental issues. , and the tradition has even deeper Catholic roots. , wrote Joanne M. Pierce in a commentary for The Conversation, distributed by Religion News Service.

And elsewhere on the climatic rhythm:

  • Bloomberg Green’s Zachary R. Mider and Rachel Adams-Heard on Million-Making Company buy back decaying oil and gas wells in the Appalachians, some of which release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
  • Private equity firms are also invest heavily in assets dumped by fossil fuel companies, keeping these operations out of the public eye as they continue to emit greenhouse gases, Hiroko Tabuchi writes to The New York Times.
  • Mongabay reports a secret investigation by the non-profit watchdog Global Witness, in which an oil palm industry leader was secretly filmed talking about bribing government officials in Papua New Guinea, while another reported described tax evasion and a third said he sent the police to beat up the villagers.
  • Jeffrey Pierre of NPR reports that a new study found that a quarter of the roads in the United States, as well as many critical facilities such as schools, hospitals and airports, are threatened by flooding.

Events to come:

This week’s events include a discussion on the rights of nature, an exploration of the sanctity of water, a look at building a grassroots movement to implement Laudato Si ‘ and the solemn vespers celebrated by Cardinal Blase Cupich to give thanks for God’s gift of creation.

You can find more information about these and other events on the EarthBeat Events page, and you can add your group’s event here.


Closing time:

Roewe will have more stories of how Catholics plan to raise their voice of faith at the November climate summit, and he will be in Glasgow in the first week of the meeting, so watch his reports on EarthBeat in the coming weeks.

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