Could a mass media campaign save the world?

Could a mass media campaign save the world?
United Nations CSD-19 prioritized sustainable consumption and production.

With hundreds of billions in media spent each year in hopes that we’ll consume more, how much media would it take for us to consume less?

Much of the discussion last week at the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-19) focused on sustainable consumption and production, the reduction of waste, and the barrier that hazardous chemicals in products pose to recycling and disposing of refuse.

The household hazardous waste that we dispose of daily into our environment, including drain cleaners, antifreeze, poisons, pesticides, rodentcides, and the thousands of products we use to maintain our “beauty,” our toys, our lawns, and our homes are killing us. Yet, many of these products will be in greater demand as developing countries create wealth.

Some advertisers envision a future where everyone in the world can have shinier hair, whiter teeth, Febreeze, electric toothbrushes, and houses that are cleaner than clean. Economic growth in developing countries represents an opportunity to move marketing dollars toward more consumers.

One thing that everyone seemed to agree upon last week at CSD-19 was that consumption and waste is out of control, and destroying our own species as well as all the other ones. It was mentioned in one session that what we need most is a mass media campaign to change our attitude toward consumption. But, in the U.S.A. alone, we are bombarded by about $400 billion dollars in advertising a year, give or take a few hundred billion dollars. This investment is cleverly programmed, and psychologically crafted, to invade every nick and cranny of our lives and our identity, in the hopes that we will consume more.

How much would a counter media campaign cost? Who would pay for a campaign encouraging us to consume less? Can we ever get back to the good old days when we use fly swatters instead of sprays, and scrub dirt by hand rather than dissolve it with chemicals? Unlikely.

I am reminded of one of the best campaigns I can remember. It was from Canada. Buy Nothing Day.

Another topic last week was not about the abundance of hazardous waste and chemicals in our environment, but about the abundance of hazardous chemicals in our bodies. See video Body Burden. It is part of Safe Planet, a smart and innovative UN-initiated project in which celebrities, scientists, educators, and professionals from all walks of life, get their blood tested for toxic content. It’s actually easier to map out the chemical concentrations around the world through blood sampling than through soil, water and air testing. Another obstacle, some people pointed out, is that the chemical companies have paid representatives at the UN helping to create policy.

Some administrators are not keen to create a chemical scare, and this is understandable for many reasons. One reason sited was that women might choose not to breast feed their babies if they knew what was in their milk. There is “no research” to prove what products can lead to disease. And there is nobody to fund the research either. Coincidence?

So, what will a green economy look like? Some envision a world where more women would be in charge of the resources, consumers would begin to pay the true price of the products we discard, and companies would have to present a full life cycle plan for every item at their expense. More money would be spent on education than on advertising, wars, and useless stuff we don’t need.

Groups talked about how fast our electronics become obsolete. So do our weapons, our cars, our planes and the color of our nail polish. In terms of health, even that has become dependent on artificial sustenance with a huge waste footprint. Through modern medicine, we can live long enough now to consume exponentially more than our ancestors.

Making sense of it all is what kept the CSD-19 delegates up day and night. They are committed to creating a framework that will guide the world toward a green economy, the Land of Oz. But, who will fund a campaign that encourages us to “buy green, buy less or buy local” so we can build a sustainable green supply chain? Many of the delegates say they are counting on mankind to have a consciousness shift.

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