In the U.S., we are an unapologetically consumer society. Whether we are buying the latest Apple product, Starbucks latte, designer clothing, newest car, or McDonald’s Big Mac we are constantly consuming goods at an exponential rate. To add to the constant flow, advertisements encourage individuals to contribute to the market machine, the well-oiled engine that drives people to stores where they buy and buy and buy.
America is the land of bigger is better: bigger cars, bigger meals, bigger people. We are not sold products we are sold lifestyles, and our ever so malleable minds desire these predetermined life choices. We want to be cool and powerful, proving our stature and abilities as Americans. We build gargantuan mansions to hold one person, we own several estates around the country, and yet we leave crumbling old buildings to fend for themselves. The American settlement began with a thirst for adventure and freedom as we finally found a home for ourselves. That home rapidly evolved into teeming cities and severely over-crowded suburbs.
Our biodiversity has seen a rapid decrease as wildlife was pushed out by new construction and development. No longer can animals be found freely roaming the land. Instead, they are born and raised in industrial developments where some never even see the light of day before they are met with the slaughter house in their youth. Large corporations like Nestle came in and drained our lakes of fresh water, thousands and thousands of gallons at a time. Walmart and Meijer opened up shop pushing thousands of plastic bags out their doors, oftentimes containing only one item in each. Around the parameter of the shopping centers, white plastic bags blow around the parking lot like tumble weeds trapped in the wind with no destination. In my own apartment at home, we have an entire closet filled to the brim with these nuisances.
Traveling to the U.K., I am met with a much different story. Although I am not naïve to ecocentrism, I am truly amazed at the complete differentiation between how the environment is treated on this island, versus the anthropocentrism found at home in America.
My first experience was the toilets, the inability to flush a singular toilet multiple times in a span of minutes. Additionally some of the showers function on a timer, not inhibiting you but reminding you of the water you are expending. This is not certain zonal areas that are aware, it is the whole United Kingdom that works to maintain their renewable resources. Although it was explained to me the importance of conserving water when you are an island located in the middle of a wide expanse of salt water, I wonder if the overall mindset is something much more than it appears.
At 9:00 am on June 6th we traveled to King’s Cross station, and boarded the train to Edinburgh, Scotland. Four and a half hours later we arrived to our destination and I was absolutely enchanted by the mountains that ringed the city. Specifically Arthur’s Seat, the dormant volcano that was located in the backyard of the university we stayed at. Every day I could see hikers finally breaking the peak of the mountain, gazing out at the wide expanse stretching far ahead of and all around them.
As we ventured further into Scotland to St. Andrews, I gazed out the windows as the countryside and the sea bordered the train on both sides. I watched cows and sheep lazily graze among the rolling hills, raised in the wide-open air, and not confined in an overcrowded pen. Arriving at our destination, we gazed open-mouthed at the ancient castle and cathedral that sat along the ocean. Walking through their remains we listened to the seagulls cry and the waves lap at the shore while these incredible structures made of stone reached for the sky.
Most historical buildings have an entrance fee that contributes to the restoration and maintenance of the incredible structures. Though there are not many public trash cans, you hardly ever see litter dotting the pavements or grass whether it is the people who are more conscious, or the clean-up crews that are hired by the city to keep their home a beautiful place. Dogs are rarely kept on leashes and yanked around by their owner’s impatience; instead they elicit a true love for their family and a loyalty that cannot be shaken as they wait outside storefronts for their best friend.
Advertisements do not push this ever constant buzz of consume, consume, consume. Rather, goods are offered at face value; you either want them or you don’t. At stores you have to pay extra for a bag, something I found extremely rude and cheap at first. However, I learned the true reason behind this and was embarrassed at my own, rash reaction. People in the U.K. are aware of the environmentally dangerous plastic bags, and even discourage their use. Instead, reusable cloth bags are sold to cut down on the man-made, hazardous objects that are hard to recycle.
Though this island is filled with many cultures and countries, they all understand the importance of conservation of natural resources, preservation of all biodiversity. It is a place that is older and wiser than our very young country, and has proven more successful at integrating technology and the environment. If America is the on one end of the spectrum with it’s industrialized agriculture, and third world countries are on the other with limited access to clean drinking water, then the United Kingdom and Ireland are the happy medium. We would do well to learn from their environmental efforts, and the advertising and marketing industry should be drastically harnessed from promoting overconsumption.
I am incredibly grateful for the experience to see other parts of the world and learn from them. I intend to take these ideas back to the U.S. in the hopes of implementing change or at least showing our society possible alternatives. Although it is rather ambitious, it only takes one voice to be the catalyst of a great movement.