Consumption – it’s still a disease

The doco I’m currently working on is about a sinking island. It you're interested you can discover more about it at and The film explores the trials faced by a culturally unique community as their island home slowly disintegrates due to a combination of climate change and geological factors. The island is called Takuu and it’s part of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, which is in turn part of Papua New Guinea. We recently sponsored a translator from Takuu to come over and help us extract a bit more from the interviews that were done last year when the director was on the island, and it’s been an interesting experience hosting someone from somewhere so, well, poor.

Our translator has lived in Rabaul, which is north of Bougainville, and in PNG’s capital, Port Moresby, as well as Takuu so she’s fairly cosmopolitan, at least by PNG standards . But nevertheless she doesn’t shop, doesn’t drive, spends NZ$35 on groceries a week and hates going to the movies. You can’t buy new books in PNG (they come in with travellers who on-sell them, apparently), so borrowing them is fine with her. PNG currently has a comparatively tiny carbon footprint and this is largely because most people there just don’t have enough money to buy the volume of stuff that we do or travel as much, and so they just…don’t. I’ve begun to feel incredibly guilty (as opposed to moderately guilty) about fairly fucking ordinary things like going for coffee, buying spare Ethernet cables, owning a car, flying, using a computer with a broadband connection that doesn’t drop every time the power supply fails, continuous power, hot running water, long showers….you get the picture. I feel especially guilty when I think about how the life-style that we collectively share here pretty much demands that we consume, simply in order to participate in normal cultural and social events. I’ve been horribly poor before (by NZ standards - which is certainly relative), and I can still remember how on the outer I felt when I couldn’t afford to buy Birthday gifts, or drive to visit people outside the CBD or to the beach, or get books or new shoes or visits to the dentist (I’m still paying off a crown actually), or go to the movies or out for coffee or dinner, or to the theatre or a concert. In PNG most people don’t regularly do a lot of that stuff, or if they do they do it less or they figure out some simpler alternative, like making things. Here in uber-middle-class land we kind of have to buy goods and services just in order to socialise and be part of normal life. It’s like a particularly nasty version of peer-pressure. I never thought I’d feel so much like a vapid blonde cheerleader.

If we’re to survive peak oil, let alone the massive and fast approaching vicissitudes of climate change we’re going to have to get used to having, expecting and doing less. And when I see things from the perspective of our translator, less not only seems do-able - it also seems fair. Most people other places in the world currently do fine on it. We can too.


Anonymous said…
this is also a good piece on the topic of consumption.
Anonymous said…
umm, the link being

You should write some more on the there once was an island blog about your translators experience of living in New Zealand. Nice piece
Anonymous said…
doh... the actual link i meant to post is:

We can dismiss so called "climate change" as the nonsense it is because science simply doesn't support it. Islands have appeared and disappeared for millions of years. No need to feel guilty there.

Nothing wrong with capitalism either, consumption isn't a bad thing if it is done with thought and care for those around you and your environment.

Capitalism will do those you talk about in those Islands the best service than any sort of guilt laden welfare from liberal Western do gooders.