You Built It, You Bought It.

You’ve got a sweet tooth, you bought your favourite morsel from the corner store and carried it home. It’s got dried pineapple from South America, macadamias from Madagascar and ted nugent from Michigan…. If we ignore your own physical exertion, what’s your carbon footprint?… Zero! All you did was eat it! In no way did you force someone to refine oil into that wrapper, grow sugarcane or burn gallons of fuel shipping across oceans.


Being a consumer does not make you responsible for production. We need to stop pretending that we are somehow shaping the world by ‘voting’ with our wallets. How can this be depicted more clearly? Those who did it, did it, and should pay for it. You pump it into the air or water, you pay up front while doing it. If you produce one billion tons of packaging that will end up as trash, you pay for one billion tons of waste management up front. If we want to save our habitat we need to tax the waste generated by production. Its so simple, if you farted, you’re the one who better go open the window.

We do the opposite, we subsidize production, its what we’ve always done to drive our economies. Public money cleans up waste which absolves producers from responsibility while tax dollars are also used to encourage more production. Its a double team.

Taxing consumption at the retail level isn’t sufficient either. It does raise the purchase price of wasteful products, which is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t cover goods that were given away, stolen or unsold. Many products still get made, shipped and discarded into landfills without tax collected. Taxing the retail consumer also consistently increases crime and corruption; bootleggers thrive when taxes make retail prices too high. Taxing consumption is inadequate unless you tax the party who actually consumed the resources and energy.

I suppose that’s the ultimate conclusion here; we’ve all been mis-labeled as consumers when really we’re consuming very little. “Consumers” are not the consumers. I’m shopping incredibly local every time i go to the corner store. I didn’t instruct anyone to fill the shelves with goods from around the world, i made absolutely no requests. The damage was done long before i got there, so why should i pay for it?

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2 Responses to “You Built It, You Bought It.”

  1. Jules Cosby Says:

    Remember being a kid and learning that Tim Horton’s threw out all of their donuts at the end of the night? It’s a great mirror of our system of production: produce much, consume as much as possible, bury the rest. The famous invisible hand that magically sorts between all of our needs – real and manufactured – also carries our garbage bags to the dump, just as it tosses poison into the air and stirs sludge into the water.

  2. remistevens Says:

    One way or another, we need to collect adequate tax revenue to upgrade/clean up dirty industries. This needs a systemic fix, neither consumers nor producers are going to change their behavior willingly. They haven’t in the past, why would they now? Taxing the ever-poorer consumer can raise the price of wasteful products, which might recoup some of the environmental cost, but it doesn’t cover goods that were given away, stolen or unsold. Many products still get made, shipped and discarded into landfills without tax collected. Taxing the retail consumer also consistently increases crime and corruption; bootleggers thrive when taxes make retail prices too high- a whole black market skipping taxation. So tax the party who actually brought the wasteful good into our marketplace. Get the money up front from the factory or boat, you’ll miss less revenue. Seriously, what makes more sense: tracking down billions of distributed goods and getting a percentage from each, or taxing them all at the source?

    There is also no accountability for producers, the costs of their activities are not their own. Owners don’t live near the pollution created and they won’t need to deal with it. Public money picks up trash, processes wastewater, cleans up spills and disasters. We pay for testing, regulators, lawmakers- all the people entrusted to make sure operations are safe. We even maintain the infrastructure that crumbles more quickly under the weight of industry. Despite this, we subsidize production to encourage more growth. . . . . Waste is a big expense for us, so we spend money encouraging more waste. Its a double team. He’s not opening the window, and we’re too busy making him chili to do it ourselves.

    Analogy. The public is well aware of the destructive nature of urban sprawl. Developers get blamed for building neighbourhoods that require commuting and government gets blamed for expanding the roads. In this instance we may implicate drivers and homeowners for creating a demand, but outright blame, forget it. The consumer isn’t at fault. Ultimately we know that politicians made all the decisions that count, not consumers. There is no disconnect between the cause of the problem and the culprit. We remember who built that new highway, we even know the bugger’s smiling face from his posters… But me eating a candy? That’s seems exclusively between me and the candy, a carefully constructed illusion. I don’t know who made it, what its contents are, or where any of it came from- but its the one with the pink label and i’m a bad person for eating it.

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