Fuck you, Discover Card.

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Every time I spot this commercial from Discover Card on the teevee, I throw up in my mouth a little.

“We are a nation of consumers. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”

OK, Discover Card marketing peoples, I’ll bite. Yes, ’tis true, we are a nation of consumers. But this isn’t something we should boast about, so much as be ashamed of. Rather than brag about our astounding levels of consumption, we should be striving to reduce the amount we consume. The last thing we need is a bank encouraging us to buy more, more, more. (But encouraging us to save money by – gasp! – not spending money wouldn’t much help fatten Discover’s pocketbooks, would it?)

We’re a nation of consumers. And if we continue on our current path, we’ll consume the earth – as in, all of it – in less than 50 years:

Let’s put this in perspective. Earth has about 22 billion acres of ecologically productive land. This is comprised of about 3.3 billion acres of arable and crop land, 8.4 billion acres of pasture land, and 10.1 billion acres of forest land. Not all of the arable land is of high quality, and improving agricultural productivity by use of fertilizers and insecticides, or shifting to monocultural forestry, affects ecosystems in other, often deleterious, ways. Expansion of land use in any of those categories can only be done at the expense of one of the other categories, and development of the land for human structures of all kinds competes for this same area. Not only that, but we have to share this land with the other organisms on Earth who might not be able to tolerate our land use ‘improvement’ measures, or to survive as a group as environmental fragmentation becomes extensive.

If we maintain our current footprint and the human population of 2050 (estimated at 9 billion) reaches consumption levels similar to ours, which is a practical goal for the developing world, humanity would need 13.5 billion acres of land for food production and 14.4 billion acres for wood products on a steady-state basis to be sustainable, and we would have degraded about 3.6 billion acres for human structures. For humans alone, excluding the needs of other organisms, there is not that much land available simply by considering these three computable sorts of personal footprints!

Furthermore, the food footprint calculations cited above used U.S. yields, which are significantly higher than average global yields. If global yields were used in those calculations, our food footprints would be closer to 3 acres. Earth’s carrying capacity for a population with 3-acre food footprints might be no more than about 4 billion people (12 billion acres of arable, crop and pasture land ÷ 3). Each year more of our most productive farmland is buried under human structures, and both good and marginal farmland becomes unusable due to poor farming practices, so even the estimate of a sustainable carrying capacity of 4 billion people eating and living as we do may be high.

So yeah, there’s something seriously fucking wrong with that.

By the by, is “saving by spending” the private sector’s version of “sacrificing by consuming”?