I was out for a short walk and I came up with a phrase that wraps up the essense of the problem with consumerism in one single sentence:
“We need money so that we can pay psychiatrists because they need to help people who feel bad because we are making money off of people.”
Two days ago in Leh I met a senior Japanese culture teacher and photographer. He told me of a Swedish woman called Helena Norberg. He said that she came to Ladakh in the 1970s and managed to save much of Ladakh’s culture from the then newly introduced consumerism, something that he considers has destroyed most of the world’s cultures.
The more I read up on Helena Norberg the more I am in awe. She has studied cultures all over the world and has seen the effects of consumerism.
I would like to share a number of citations from her but I will contend with only one:
“When I first arrived in Leh, the capital of 5,000 inhabitants, cows were the most likely cause of congestion and the air was crystal clear. Within five minutes’ walk in any direction from the town centre were barley fields, dotted with large farmhouses. For the next twenty years I watched Leh turn into an urban sprawl. The streets became choked with traffic, and the air tasted of diesel fumes. ‘Housing colonies’ of soulless, cement boxes spread into the dusty desert. The once pristine streams became polluted, the water undrinkable. For the first time, there were homeless people. The increased economic pressures led to unemployment and competition. Within a few years, friction between different communities appeared. All of these things had not existed for the previous 500 years.”
So not only does consumerism destroy ecosystems, the climate and our potential to live on this planet, it also ravages our past and consumes ancient cultures.
Helena Norberg has founded the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC) and the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh. What an amazing story.