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Thursday, Nov. 8, 2001
OUR PLANET EARTH
Creation of wants and the damage done
Who's consuming whom? Are we consuming advertising and living a better life because it educates us about a wide range of choices? Or is advertising consuming us, urging us to want, need and buy whatever the market has to offer?
Few argue that advertising is unnecessary. It allows businesses, as well as nonprofit organizations, to offer goods and services to the public, and it helps us find what we need in the marketplace. But does advertising broaden our choices or limit them? Does it set us free, or shackle us?
Jerry Mander, author of "Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television," believes the latter: "Advertising people will argue against the notion that the purpose and result of their activities is to unify and homogenize people and culture. They are forever speaking of the dazzling array of choices our market system provides, and how advertising provides the information we need to make choices."
The effect of advertising, however, is to control us, argues Mander. "The result is a singularly channeled mentality, nicely open to receiving commercial messages, ready to confuse brand diversity with diversity itself, and to confuse human need with the advertiser's need to sell commodities."
Naturally, corporations insist advertising is essential to ensure consumers can make informed choices on what to buy. However, more and more of these choices are prescribed by those able to afford the huge costs of high-profile advertising, and increasingly by media-owners themselves, such as TV networks.
So how does an environmental advocacy organization inform consumers to be more aware of how advertising manipulates their range of choices and desire to consume? Well, with top-class advertising.
Global Village is a Tokyo-based nongovernmental organization that campaigns on environmental and Third World issues. Earlier this year, GV opened its second annual eco-design contest, inviting entrants to submit photos, posters, magazine advertisements and other images that could be exhibited two-dimensionally. The contest was run in both Britain and Japan; the theme this year was "Consumer Society, Consumed Planet."
According to Megumi Matsue, who handles public relations and marketing for GV: "The purpose of the contest is to give professional and amateur graphic designers, photographers and artists a chance to use art to express their concern about the control that consumerism has over society, and the damage this is causing to the environment and our minds."
In Britain, the contest drew almost 50 entrants, from elementary school students to professionals artists. In Japan (with more than twice the population), entrants topped 100. First prize in Japan went to Yasuharu Saito for his work "You Can Destroy Earth." His effort won him a study tour to India. Three entrants shared second place: Kota Hikichi for "The Earth Is Blue-green"; Masayoshi Sato for "The Earth as a Wrecking Ball"; and Tomonori Akutsu for "Earth FOR SALE."
GV founder Safia Minney says she is delighted with the increasing number of thoughtful and creative entries. "Our minds are being invaded every day by messages for goods we don't need," she said. "Here are messages that bring out the good in all of us instead."
For more information on Global Village, visit: www.globalvillage.or.jp
Some weeks ago, I wrote a column on how we can cut down on the amount of carbon dioxide we generate in our daily lives. Quite a few readers responded, so I am including some of their comments below.
From Japan: "The points you make are all quite valid, but pretty much what the Japanese are used to hearing. When is someone going to have the courage to tell the Japanese to stop burning domestic and agricultural garbage, and to start building homes with proper insulation? When is someone going to question why the domestic power monopolies hire airtime to intimidate domestic consumers and then charge them the world's highest prices so that they can continue offering big discounts to Big Business? And what about the 16 Coca-Cola machines within 1 km of my home alongside one road alone?
"If ever the Japanese get serious about saving energy, I think the Swedes have got it right with their emphasis on toughening up building norms and on government loans to improve older houses' insulation."
From Sweden: "1) It may not always be smart to lower the temperature of water heaters, at least not if used for household/shower, etc. There have been cases of low-temperature heaters with bacteria growth (Legionella) in the tubes, which made people sick or even killed them. 2) Sealing ventilation gaps too well may not always be good. There is a need for ventilation, to prevent mildew, etc. . . . but my real message is that you omitted mentioning one thing that is obvious to all visitors to Japan: the habit of letting car engines idle for long periods of time! Not only taxi drivers at their stands, but most everyone. When I was a guest researcher in Japan, my secretary said that in winter, her husband starts his car half an hour before leaving so it will warm up. No good for the car, to say the least. In Europe many places have forbidden idling (max. one minute or so)."
From North America: "Overlooked, because the Kyoto Treaty does not address the problem head-on . . . is the role played by biomass burning in carbon emissions . . . and wildfire as a largely unrecognized and overlooked climate-change and pollution problem."
Also from Japan: "There ya go again. Blubbering away without telling the rest of the story. I guess if you said this, you would be out of a job pretty damn quick though! . . . A lot of Americans are advocating to stop any and all production that benefits the rest of the world and only produce what helps Americans exclusively! This will cut the amount of carbon dioxide so much you will not even want to think about how low it will be. You will be begging for carbon dioxide so trees and plants can grow!!"
Stephen Hesse welcomes feedback at email@example.com