You’re standing in line, waiting to get to the voting booths so you can number the ballot paper the way you memorised it in the car…what was the name of that politician who was pro-renewables again? Your heart palpitates at the sight of the voting booths, and the long sheets of paper you’ll have to fill out and fold, which you still haven’t mastered the art of, even though you’ve been voting since you were eighteen. In fact you ask yourself whether or not you actually have the IQ power to be able to read the instructions and fill out the papers properly. What is even going on here, you wonder, as you meander up the line and accept a paper that’s shoved into your hands by an outspoken activist, whose party you haven’t even heard of until you skim the title of the flyer with red-rimmed, sleep-deprived eyes – because you were up all night watching ‘Insight,’ and googling ‘Frankenfood.’
We often place a lot of pressure on ourselves and politicians during the election period, believing that the way the world is governed, generally lies on who is in charge at the time. It’s easy to forget that sometimes the biggest changes that take place in society occur when the people themselves change their mentality and behaviour in life, rather than dump cultural, social, political, economic and environmental responsibilities onto those in parliament house. At heart, all of us can be activists. We know we want a thriving environment, sound and effective policies, good healthcare and social welfare… however what are we all individually willing to do to make sure the policies reflect what society wants? Are we willing to put our desires into action, and create the kind of world we want, by applying ourselves to society in a proactive way, rather than shifting all our collective problems onto our leaders?
Politics appears to be something the ordinary citizen typically engages with during mandatory elections. However the reality of politics is far more interactive and involving than that. Every time we buy something from the store, for example, we are indirectly engaging with politics; we are indirectly affecting the overall wellbeing of society and the environment.
We hear things about the refugee crisis, the socio-economic situation in Yemen or how some billion dollar company was responsible for dumping a bunch of chemicals in the earth; how glyphosate has been linked to cancer. We watch these stories on the news with wide eyes, and our extra large buckets of Monsanto popcorn, and sit there wondering how this can all be happening. Well the truth is it’s all happening because we’re allowing it to happen – every time we spend our money.
Thanks to the incessant media advertising of corporate products, when we go shopping, we often do not think about the inadvertent effects of our consumer choices – we are thinking about devouring that photoshopped ice-cream sundae on the billboard outside of the shopping complex. Because we are so far removed from the process of how our food is actually sourced and created, we can easily fall into the trap of buying things that could be damaging the environment, fostering pollution – or even child labour. According to the 2018 Cocoa Barometer (created by a group of fifteen European not-for-profit organisations) there are approximately 2.1 million children working in cocoa fields in Ivory Coast and Ghana, the world’s two largest cocoa producers. Some of these workers are incredibly underpaid, making a pitiful amount compared to average labourers in these locations. Unfortunately, due to poor media coverage and corporations with economic interests, the average consumer is not exposed to the news of cocoa trafficking as much as they are exposed to images of chocolate sundaes. Thus consumers end up buying products that might have fostered an illegal, inhumane or questionable endeavour that the consumer never aspired toward. If we were to fully understand how the items we buy are made, and the social, political, economic and environmental ramifications of the item’s production, then perhaps we would never buy said items in the first place.
It is a sad reality then, to turn our favourite food products around and find a bunch of ingredients that foster planetary destruction, or promote child labour. How are we supposed to eat anything, when half the products on the shelves contain a Monsanto (now Bayer) derived ingredient? How are we supposed to eat any processed food, when processed food is notoriously known to contain a palm oil derivative, or vegetable oil, which is causing gratuitous deforestation on an unprecedented scale; the extinction of wildlife that our ecosystem relies on to function.
Well, the solution is not as hard as you may think – especially with the rise of exceptionally delicious, animal and vegetable oil free products that are both ethically sourced and environmentally friendly. All we need to do is pay better attention to what we purchase, while we are out shopping. We need to become conscious consumers instead of passive dupes that buy anything we see on corporate billboards, with no consideration as to how ethical the product is. If we don’t become active, conscious consumers, then our collective, first-world complacency is going to be detrimental to the planet, and thus our survival as a species.
One just needs to look at the recent effluent spill threatening the Great Barrier Reef, caused by floodwaters flowing from Whitesundays to Cape Tribulation, to see how our planet is collapsing due to our inaction. The polluted water, filled with industrial pesticides, pose as a significant threat to coral reefs and oceanic biodiversity. Many might think the issue could have been prevented simply by implementing stronger, more responsible industry practices, however the fact of the matter is, if there wasn’t a huge demand for pesticide derived produce by the general populace, than perhaps a spill of this proportion would not have occurred to begin with. This recent spill demonstrates the frightening link between our consumer behaviour and the environment, and highlights the ecological destruction we are causing by virtue of ignoring the dangers of our consumer behaviour.
So now that we’ve established that our consumer behaviour is a major cause for concern, let’s look at the next steps – what can we do to remedy this situation? The first and most obvious thing we can do, is buy more brands that actively support a sustainable, ethical planet, while reducing or eliminating our consumption of detrimental products. The second thing we can do, is raise awareness of the damaging effects of our consumer behaviour, so others can make more informed decisions about the kinds of products they buy, and how often.
So next time you’re waiting in line to go vote for the kind of world you want, just remember that you can be just as, if not more effective, lining up behind the till as you are behind the ballot booths. Turn your shopping experience into a form of activism by supporting the proliferation of products that are less damaging to society and the environment than the other options. If enough people became conscious consumers, then in effect, we will be able to change society and the environment around, and create a better, more sustainable future for us all.
Words and photography by Minny Jackson, Politics Co-Editor
Minny Jackson is an environmental and socio-political, social media activist who founded Green Eye to motivate people to create change using their consumer behaviour.