DXJWriter…Need help with this essay, the rough draft i sdue by Tuesday I have the articled attached In a paper of 500–750 words: a) Identify the problem or challenge presented in the essay. What sentence in the essay illustrates it best? b) How does the author describe the problem? What terms or descriptors are used? c) In terms of organization, in what section did the author describe the problem? Does the organization work in presenting the problem? d) In coming to a solution, what evidence of the problem is used by the author? e) How, then, does the author use the evidence to create a solution? f) Is the solution viable? Does it make sense and could it solve the problem? Why? g) How does the proposal solve the problem? That is, with money? Ingenuity? Human hands and energy? What will be needed to put the solution into place? h) Evaluate the overall effectiveness of the solution for this essay. Explain why the solution works or does not work. American Consumerism Jamie Bentley Writers often agree with an argument, yet see value in redirecting attention to some other aspect of the issue (agree and redirect). In the following essay, Jamie Bentley, a first-year student at Umpqua Community College, responds to Simon Benlow’s “An Apology to Future Generations” (pp. 413–418). First she acknowledges Benlow’s idea about the harmful effect a consumerist culture has on the environment, and then she argues about the more harmful effect it has on the American family. Contemporary American culture has a well-documented obsession with consuming things. According to Simon Benlow, “You know how opulently we lived, how we gorged ourselves daily, how we lived beyond the means of ourselves and of the following generations” (577). Benlow states that we have “irreparably harmed the world for those beyond [our time]” (577). There is no doubt that we are harming the environment somewhat; however, more than harming the environment, this consumerist culture is causing individual economic problems and contributes to the breakdown of the family. While we are individually causing economic distress for ourselves, we are helping to better the economy of the nation. From 1950 to 2000, the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita tripled to $35,970 (Lankford, “Consumerism”). This incredible gain in wealth for our nation supposedly helped us all. Sixty-eight percent of American families own a home, 98% own color televisions, 94% own VCRs, 90% own microwaves, and 83% own washing machines (Lankford, “Consumerism”). I say “supposedly helped” because, while these things greatly increase our comfort and entertainment, they also greatly increase personal debt. The average American household has $18,700 of debt, not including mortgages (Lankford, “Introduction”). In 2000, the average American’s consumer debt was 96% of his disposable income; by 2004, that consumer debt increased to 113% of his disposable income (Lankford, “Introduction”). One cause of such increased debt is that “[a]ccording to the San Antonio Business Journal, there are over 785 million credit cards currently in circulation, used to charge $1.5 trillion each year” (Lankford, “Introduction”). Jennifer Errick says, “Americans like to shop. We like big stuff and we like lots of it. Everything in our lives is getting bigger, from vehicles and houses to TV screens and bathtubs” (qtd. in Lankford, “Introduction). Everything is getting bigger, including debt. Credit cards allow instantaneous purchases. Our society is one of instant gratification, and that is part of what makes credit cards so popular. We no longer have to wait to buy something we want until we have enough money; we can just charge it now and pay for it later. In fact, the “[a]verage increase in consumer spending when credit cards are used instead of cash [is] 23%” (New Road Map Foundation). This idea of “buy now, pay later” is largely responsible for our debt. People charge much, much more than they can afford because they think they can always pay later. They do not take into account that all those purchases add up very quickly, and so does the interest that is charged. Because such massive debt is being accrued by consumers, 1.6 million personal bankruptcy filings took place in the year 2004, up from only 900,000 in 1995 (Lankford, “Introduction). “‘The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates businesses lose about $40 billion annually to bankruptcies,’ notes the Arizona Daily Star, ‘passing much of the cost on to consumers.’” (Lankford, “Introduction”) This causes a vicious cycle, because when the businesses pass on costs to consumers, they increase prices, which costs the consumer more money, which can lead to more debt, which can lead to more bankruptcy. 5 American consumerism is not only causing more debt, but it is also causing a sharp decrease in savings. In 1973, the average amount of disposable income put into savings was 8.6%; in 1994 it was 4.2%; by November 2005, it was negative 0.2% (New Road Map Foundation; Lankford, “Introduction”). This consumerist mentality is also contributing to the breakdown of the family unit. When the average family is in debt by $18,700 (Lankford, “Introduction”), it increases the likelihood that both parents will need to work, and work more hours, in order to pay off this debt. With both parents working, the children will need to be in daycare or have some sort of child- Bentley 345 American Consumerism 9781111221119, The Composition of Everyday Life: A Guide to Writing, John Mauk - © Cengage Learning 346 Chapter 10 Searching for Causes care provided for them. When families don’t spend time together, they tend to drift apart. According to a survey done by the New Road Map Foundation, the average parent spends 6 hours a week shopping, but only 40 minutes a week playing with their children. What kind of message does this send to our children? While there is no doubt that these parents love their children, it is subtly sending the message that things are more important than time spent together. This same survey by the New Road Map Foundation showed that “American parents spent 40% less time with their children in 1991 than they did in 1965.” That is so incredibly sad, and unfortunately, it will more than likely just get worse. Even sadder still is the fact that only 34% of Americans said they were “willing to forgo raises and promotions to devote more time to their families” (New Road Map Foundation). Children will grow up thinking this is normal, and they will try to provide the same “quality” of life for their children as they had growing up. They will try to accomplish this by working more hours to earn more money so they can buy more things for their families. The constant shopping and having more material possessions is not making us happier. Ed Diener and Martin Seligman, psychologists, did more than 150 studies on the links between happiness and wealth and found “that there has been no appreciable rise in life satisfaction over the past decades, despite our increased material wealth” (Lankford, “Materialism”). When parents spend the majority of their time shopping or working, the family unit is placed under stress, and relationships start to suffer (Lankford, “Materialism”). It’s very difficult to have a relationship with someone who’s never there, and as the New Road Map Foundation study shows, parents are spending less and less time with their children. Joseph Beckenbach, a software consultant from San Jose, CA, has joined the anti-consumerist movement in order to put less emphasis on consuming (shopping in particular) so that he can “keep . . . focus on what’s more important in life, like spending time with my daughter” (qtd. in Emert). The anti-consumerist movement has created what’s called Buy Nothing Day in order to encourage more people to put less emphasis on shopping, as Joseph Beckenbach has. Buy Nothing Day takes place on the day after Thanksgiving, the day that begins the mad rush of holiday shopping for many people. The editor of Adbusters magazine thinks that only 1 million people participated in Buy Nothing Day in the year 1999, and that was globally. With 6 billion people on the planet, that was only .0001% (Emert). More people need to take action and get involved with activities such as Buy Nothing Day, or simply just spend more time together as a family. 10 All of our consuming is also causing damage to the environment. “For packaging (cans, bottles, cartons, etc.) alone, the U.S. uses approximately: 50% of its paper, 75% of its glass, 40% of its aluminum, and 30% of its plastics” (New Road Map Foundation). Every year, the amount of waste in the U.S. is equivalent to filling “a convoy of 10-ton garbage trucks 145,000 miles long” (New Road Map Foundation). If we would just buy less, we would waste less. Most everything we buy comes in some sort of packaging; if our nation as a whole would buy less, manufacturers would produce less, which would equate to less of our resources being used for packaging and ultimately less waste. A 1991 survey found that “8 out of 10 Americans regarded themselves as ‘environmentalists’ and half of those said they were ‘strong’ ones”; 78% of Americans “believed that a ‘major national effort’ [is] needed to improve the environment” (New Road Map Foundation). However, only 22% of Americans were found to be “actively working toward solutions” (New Road Map Foundation). This seems to be a classic example of the saying “do as I say, not as I do.” Oisin Coghlan, from Friends of the Earth, “believes about 5 per cent of the population are willing to change their behaviour [sic] with minimal pushing, but many more belong to the ‘I will if you will’ contingent” (qtd. in Cullen). Because our culture is one that is focused on popularity, and what is cool to do at the moment, many people will only do something if “everyone else is doing it.” Coghlan also believes that people need incentives in order to become more “green” (Cullen). This plays off of our society’s selfish attitude. Many people will only do something if it has something in it for them. Why should they drive out of their way to spend more money on a product that may or may not have an impact on the earth if there is nothing in it for them? Joel Makower, 9781111221119, The Composition of Everyday Life: A Guide to Writing, John Mauk - © Cengage Learning Bentley 347 American Consumerism president of Green Business Network, asks if people will choose the green product over the non-green product, and the answer he comes up with is very true, and a perfect reflection of most people’s attitudes: . . . if you probe deeper into consumer attitudes, the real answer is that consumers will choose the greener product—IF it doesn’t cost more, comes from a brand they know and trust . . . can be purchased at stores where they already shop . . . doesn’t require a significant change of habits to use . . . and has at least the same level of quality, performance, and endurance as the less-green alternative. This just goes to show how selfish most people are. We say we care about the environment, but we don’t really want to do anything about saving it if it is inconvenient for us in any way, shape, or form. People keep saying we need to improve the environment, but we are so focused on consuming things that we would rather keep up our current lifestyle than actually do something to prevent further damage to the environment and further loss of resources. One way to improve the environment would be to start spending less money! “Every time we spend money we consume resources, so saving money links directly to saving forests, other species, mineral resources, water and ultimately the earth. For ourselves, and for all of life, we must return to financial sanity” (New Road Map Foundation). By consuming less, we wouldn’t have to work as much with the intent to earn more money in order to pay off our debts. That would free us up to spend more time with our families. By consuming less, we would waste less because there would be less to throw away. By consuming less, manufacturers would be forced to produce less, which would save more resources. By consuming less, we are helping the environment, but we are ultimately helping ourselves by reducing our debts and allowing us to become more family-oriented instead of “stuff”-oriented. Works Cited Benlow, Simon. “Apology to Future Generations.” The Composition of Everyday Life. Ed. John Mauk and John Metz. 2nd ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2007. 577-81. Print. Cullen, Paul. “Landfill and Lightbulbs: Are We Ready to Abandon Our Destructive Past?” Irish Times 14 Jan. 2008: n. pag. Newspaper Source. Web. 7 Feb. 2008. Emert, Carol. “Anti-Consumerism Movement Urges Less Shopping/Less Can Be More—Buy Nothing Campaign Gains Strength.” San Francisco Chronicle 26 Nov. 2000: B1. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Web. 7 Feb. 2008. Lankford, Ronnie D. Jr. “Consumerism Creates a Healthy Economy.” At Issue: Is American Society Too Materialistic? Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2006: n. pag. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Web. 19 Jan. 2008. ---. Introduction to At Issue: Is American Society Too Materialistic? Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2006: n. pag. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Web. 19 Jan. 2008. ---. “Materialism Undermines the Family.” At Issue: Is American Society Too Materialistic? Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2006: n. pag. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Web. 7 Feb. 2008. Makower, Joel. “Whatever Happened to Green Consumers?” New American Dream. New American Dream, n.d. Web. 7 Feb. 2008. New Road Map Foundation. “All Consuming Passion: Waking Up from the American Dream.” EcoFuture. EcoFuture, 17 Jan. 2002. Web. 19 Jan. 2008.