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Advertising: Are You Buying It?

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko
Special to the Surf City Voice

Here’s an inescapable reality: There are only two ways to be rich – make more or want less. This is known as “Rimo’s Rule,” though that’s beside the point.

Rather, the point here is to recognize, in our consumer-based, advertising-saturated society, how very hard it is to want less materially yet why we must to do so anyway. While it’s intuitive that most people – both the “99 percent” and the “1 percent” – could achieve greater contentment in life by better appreciating the non-material and material riches they already have, there are far-reaching, global consequences of which path to richness a society as a whole chooses.

Consider an often repeated fact, that Americans make up less than five percent of the world’s population but consume 20 to 25 percent of the world’s resources (like food, fresh water, wood, minerals and energy). This means that, on average, Americans consume five to seven times the resources per capita as the rest of humanity combined.

Renowned ecologist and agronomist David Pimentel of Cornell Universityhas calculated that the Earth’s resources could sustain a population of only two billion if everyone had the current average standard of living in the United States. His detailed analysis was published in the journal Human Ecology in 2010.

The world population is already at seven billion, and the latest United Nations projection is that the head count will reach 10 billion well before 2100. For all 10 billion to enjoy the American standard of living, Pimentel’s data imply that it would take four additional Earth planets to supply the necessary natural resources.

Even if that calculation is off by, say, a whole planet, it’s evident that the American lifestyle – with big homes, plasma TVs, multiple cars running on fossil fuels – is not a sustainable model. Serious threats to the environment, like global climate change, water shortages and pollution from industrial chemicals, continue to mount up, and well over half of humanity is already malnourished, according to the World Health Organization.

Our consumer culture is based on a belief that happiness derives from having more stuff, and advertising is the driving engine of consumerism. The primary aim of much advertising is to create need where none previously existed. Whatever is being marketed, the message boils down to either you gotta have one if you don’t already or, if you already own one, you need a better one.

Through his whimsical characters and rhymes, Dr. Seuss warned way back in his 1971 children’s book “The Lorax” of the threat to the environment when greed compels corporations to fabricate needs: Environmental devastation ensued when the book’s inhabitants were convinced they had to have “the needs, which nobody needs.” An animated film adaptation of the “The Lorax” is in theaters now. Continue reading Advertising: Are You Buying It?