Environmentalists are quick to point out that the Earth is finite. It has finite resources, finite energy, a finite amount of space and a finite capacity to absorb pollution without ecosystem collapse. Capitalism, on the other hand, centres around the assumption of the infinite. Infinite growth. You don't need a masters degree in economics to notice that every single graph you ever see goes up as it goes from left to right. More production. More consumption. More technology. More money. More, more, more. If the graph goes the other way, or even levels out, the system is in crisis. It is termed a 'recession', 'stagnation' or, if it goes on long enough, a 'depression'. These terms fill people with almost as much horror as the prospect of environmental catastrophe because they bring about their own, very tangible catastrophes: unemployment and rising costs.
So is the choice we are faced with a stark one: environmental collapse or economic collapse?
As I see it, we have two choices. We can change what we buy and we can change how much we buy. Ideally, of course, we would buy less of everything and that which we bought would be ethically sourced/made. However, herein lies the great shortfall of truly ethical consuming in our current economic system. It only incentivises the production of 'green' products if people buy more of them, not less. If you simultaneously consume less and consume green, your voice in the mix decreases. Every purchase in a market economy sends a signal to produce more of that product, and the great dream of ethical consumerism is to collectively switch production from unethical products to ethical products. That will work - the types of products produced will change as people do this. But it does not depart from the model of more buying, more spending, more ridiculous infinity.
Why do I mention the Buddha in the title? Simply because, as in most cases, the answer was there long before the question. The Buddha's greatest insight was that attachment leads to suffering. That simple truism is the cornerstone of Buddhism. Attachment will unfailingly lead to suffering because everything is transient and so becoming attached to it will cause pain when it disappears or fades. It is for that reason that monks renounce their worldly possessions. And for that reason that shopping sprees are only so temporarily satisfying.
We can only save the planet by consuming less. And, serendipitously, that may well make us happier. If carried through universally it will indeed shake the very foundations of capitalism. It will bring about 'recession', 'stagnation' and unemployment. But are we so brainwashed to think there is no other paradigm? If we are not so attached to things, will it really matter if there are not more and more of them every year? Perhaps a new system will emerge where how much you produce is no longer the point: but what, how and why you produce. Besides, there is more than enough food to go round on this planet of ours. And one man's unemployment is another man's holiday.