Why we need to be irrational consumers

Feb 08, 2021

As we head into the last month of summer, there is a different mood than in previous years. We as a country haven’t had the chilled, beach-vibe start to the year we normally would. Instead, it has been an extraordinary summer – one of catastrophic fires, soaring temperatures and an outpouring of financial aid and generosity such as we have not seen in an incredibly long time. There has also been a feeling of general helplessness – that there is so much we couldn’t do.


It was curious to me, during that time where people were desperate to contribute, the number of large companies who were encouraging us to spend, declaring they would donate during the day that people were consuming.

Those messages were jarring to me because if you believe that human consumption is contributing to climate change, being encouraged to do the thing that may or may not have contributed to the crisis seemed wrong somehow.


Now, I’m not suggesting climate change caused our summer of fires – that’s a discussion for scientists and experts of which I am not one. I am, however suggesting that we are living in a culture of consumption and distraction and if we want to break that, we need to understand and decode the messages we’re receiving about consuming.


Today, we’re caught in an era where we are addicted to modern technology and all the conveniences it brings. We’re outraged on social media about mining on one of the devices we use daily that we can’t live without but are blissfully unaware of the hypocrisy that up to ten mines exist to create those devices. Or we’re shopping at Amazon and clicking for our items to be delivered as soon as they’re ready despite the additional emissions that transport will take. Or we’ve chosen to be vegan for the environmental benefits but are chugging three coffees a day unaware it’s the sixth highest producer of greenhouse gas emissions. Or we’re delighted our Superannuation fund is performing so well this year and haven’t attributed that return to rampant consumerism and companies we’re investing with that we’ve consciously chosen not to shop with because our values aren’t aligned.


If you look at the above, it might suggest, if we unpack our behaviour, that we’re not behaving like rational consumers. Rational choice theory is an economic concept that individuals will always make rational, cautious and logical decisions. The problem for most of us as consumers today is we don’t have all the information to make these decisions and don’t know where to go and find it. Added to this is the fact that we’re not talking about money and finances regularly, we have low financial literacy and we’re being marketed to every waking moment by a system that doesn’t want us to be informed. Or to behave rationally.


In a podcast discussion between Dr Brene Brown and Russell Brandt, perhaps Dr Brown summed it up best stating “You can’t have three brutalising economic systems that regard the earth as a commodity, that regards human beings as commodity. We have corporations at the moment, where there is demand being placed on them by shareholders – that’s you and I – to deliver increasing profits at any cost. And we’re all participating.”

If we’re caught in a system that is actively working against us making rational decisions, what can be done? The answer is to choose in our current society, to be irrational.


Whether that’s choosing to shop locally only, to choose to only have once device, to purchase second hand, to buy direct from a farmer, to research ingredients and product components and company’s supply chains before you spend, to not spend for a month or a year, to only invest ethically, to grow your own produce and more. And maybe it’s the incredibly irrational act of acknowledging that you are enough and that you don’t need to consume in order to meet your scarcity mentality.


Now, I’m not suggesting that we all wear sack cloth, live off the grid and only eat what we grow. I’m also not suggesting that we don’t demand more of our governments and large corporations because we deserve better. What I am suggesting is we acknowledge that we live in a culture that exhausts more of anything and everything, that makes us feel we’re not enough and to individually choose to push against it. It’s time to act irrationally as consumers and to choose to question the system with our wallets and how we invest.

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