As citizen of Switzerland, an industrialized country, I wonder what my country can contribute to the problem of resource scarcity. We have a strong responsibility towards the other inhabitants of this Earth, since Switzerland’s footprint is more than four times larger than its biocapacity.
We need to initiate a drastic change in our way of consumption. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? But what do I do for this? I am a student, low income, when I enter the supermarket, I automatically look at the cheaper range of products. And what do I see? Apples from New Zealand, pears form South Africa, meat from Brazil. Interesting. Does Switzerland not produce apples or pears? Do we not have cattle? So explain me why we are at all given this choice?
You may say: “What is the problem? You have the choice, just choose the environmental friendly products!” Well, I cannot make an informed choice, I lack information for that. Bruno Oberle, Director of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment, listed steps to move towards a sustainable resource use. Giving more information to consumers was one of them.
But I wonder: Is a better information for consumers a viable solution? Do consumers behave responsibly, even with complete knowledge? Think about it: you see a yummy tuna sandwich in the bakery: does the thought of overfishing ever come to your mind? Or when you change your 2 year old mobile phone for the latest model available, do you ever think that the electronic waste might be dismantled and disposed in a country without any safe infrastructure or proper environmental care? Are you not tempted to choose meat from Brazil, when local, organic meat costs double the price? Well, with a little shame, I admit that sometimes I am.
As mentioned by Mr. Oberle, the (minority) fraction of the society who is best educated and well-off is likely to chose the ecological (and expensive) product, while the rest needs other incentives. Hence, giving the choice to pay for the externalities is not effective if we want society as a whole to become sustainable. We urgently need our decision-makers to bring us towards using our resources in a sustainable way. And not by choice, because we do not have this choice anymore.
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