Katelyn Kelly

Debate Paper #2

Is American culture a sustainability problem?

October 29, 2012

Word Count: 1560

American culture and cultural behaviors and tendencies are basically bad habits that Americans are unwilling or too deep into to break that are leading to a dependency on depleting resources, the materialistic need of Americans to want as much “stuff” for as cheap as possible, all which lead to a lack of physical well-being and a running cycle for a dependency on materialistic goods.
Culture is defined as the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations; the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time; the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization or; the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic. (Merriam-Webster) Applying this to the American way of life, American culture can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution in which technological advances were made to improve the way of life, productivity and the trade of materialistic goods. During the post-World War II era, production was capitalized by taking the factory system that was used to manufacture products and materials for the war. This introduced the idea of shelf-able and disposable items and the precursor for planned obsolescence. This idea of consumerism was sparked even further with the advertisement of these products, giving Americans the idea that if they buy a product, they are essentially buying happiness. Furthermore, institutions and companies that are abusing the factory system, recycling system, and advertising to the population are using nearly solely financial motivation to guide their decisions, in other words, their only driving factor is gaining more customers and making the most product at the least cost.
Americans’ lack of caring and demand for difference are clearly the opposite of sustainable, as Americans are relying on depletable sources with little movement to alternative energies, farming crops and livestock in a factory manner that is depleting jobs and displacing people and there has been a growing trend in the past century of Americans becoming less healthy and more exposed to toxins, all of which are encompassed and to an extent embraced by American culture.
Since the commercialization boom post-WWII, Americans have begun to rely on oil companies for other necessities such as heat and energy for homes, and production of household items, especially plastics. Companies have since been aware of the depletion of these natural resources and the need to move away from these and into greener technology. However, rather than putting money and research into solving the problem, many marketing companies have used a split system, in which they will donate a portion of their proceedings to research and spend the majority to focus on the advertisement, color, size, and overall appeal and sale-ability or a product. While companies may use less materials in production in most of these cases, especially evident in new water bottles, the plastic is still of the same material and is recycled just as much as the previous water bottles. However, since the water bottle uses less material, companies promote it as “environmentally friendly,” an idea that consumers buy into without the essential analysis of such a claim. Therefore, it can be deduced that companies have been using the “green movement” as a selling point, claiming that their product is less harmful to the environment which targets another American habit, which is the need for as much “stuff” for as cheap as possible. (Hindle, West-Lowry)
The American dependency on “stuff” has led to factory style production across the board since World War II from materials to food production and has led to cheaper products, and in response more demand. Companies have capitalized on this by planning obsolescence. In other words, companies since the commercialization boom of the 1950’s have been designing their products to only last a certain number of days so they can advertise a “new and better” product that consumers will happily buy into. This trend is most obvious in the computer or car market, where a new, faster, sleeker computer or car comes out every year and is widely advertised as the next best thing. Companies specifically advertise their product as the must-have and when you ask, Americans will respond. Americans have bought into this so much in fact, that in order to keep up with demand and rather than recycling old technology, companies and manufacturers are dumping technological waste in third world countries, an extreme problem that has led to multiple health issues in those countries that are directly correlated to being exposed to toxic waste. Furthermore, Americans use an average of 8.35 ton of oil equivalent person, which is about 0.20 greater than Canada and about 2 tons more than Finland, the country in the number three slot, according to NationMaster.com. This, once again, confirms that American culture is unsustainable, especially compared to other countries. By using this much energy, Americans are displaying their neglect to realize how their lifestyle is harming the environment. In order to increase life quality, Americans do not just need a new source of energy, but need to change the mindset of using so much and must shift to use less energy. (Nationmaster.com, Groves)
To look at the same behaviorisms in a different light, the production and consumption of food can be analyzed. Fast food chains are not independent of the factory system, since its introduction, fast food companies have used the factory system to produce food cheaply and in turn to pay their employees at bottom dollar. In response, American’s went crazy, here was something cheap, and delicious, just ignore the fact that it’s processed food, that will come around. As a result today Americans are eating unhealthy and cheap food as opposed to getting the more healthy and organic foods with less chemicals and hormones. This could be easily solvable by demanding more of the “expensive hippy food,” but since there is less demand for these healthier foods they are higher on the cost scale, a cycle that very few people seem willing to break, thanks to the overall behaviorisms of the general American public. This demand even ultimately leads to the food in schools becoming a concern with childhood obesity and early onset diabetes; schools are allocating the cheapest meal plans, which happens to contain more preservatives and are made up of meals that are easier to throw together rather than are necessarily healthy. As if this problem could not get worse, go ahead and add in American’s abuse of television and the internet and you have the mixings for the current obesity epidemic with people choosing to partake in those forms of entertainment than do physical exercise. The further split in economic class among neighborhoods and cities has spurred this further into submission as parents are less willing to allow children to play outside without supervision and even encourage them to buy cheap school lunches. Also, staying on the theme of financial gains being a main motivator for companies, in order to sell more products, toxins such as fire retardants and pesticides are being applied to products, however they are going unexamined and carcinogens are therefore being exposed to children and the companies are fighting the movement to put a cap on those toxins because they would lose profits if their products were not “safe.” It’s an interesting country, this one. (Take Part, Christensen)
To summarize, American culture and how American’s depend on systems like depletable energy, factory farming, and harmful products in general based on their cheap cost is causing Americans’ the loss of health and ultimately a sustainable environment. While these behaviors are a great contributing factor to the sustainability problems that are occurring in America, there are a number of movements of activism popping up that are raising awareness. For example, especially on college campuses are activism against factory farming through the use of local markets, and in affected areas activism against fracking. For the general public, documentaries have become an extremely popular form of media, most times even a free source, for information and their corresponding websites make activism even more accessible. Hopefully, in turn, these projects will change the mindset of Americans and make the American culture a more sustainable and healthy one.

Works Cited
Christensen, Jen. “Schools struggle to feed kids healthy food.” CNN Health. 29 September 2010. Web. 27 October 2012. <http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/09/29/school.food.investigation/index.html>
"culture." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2011. Web. 27 October 2012. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/culture>

“Energy Statistics>Usage per person (most recent) by country.” Nationmaster.com, 2000. IEA, Energy Balances of OECD Countries 1999-2000, Paris, 2001. Web. 27 October 2012. <http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/ene_usa_per_per-energy-usage-per-person>

“Food, Inc.” Take Part. 2008-2012. Web. 27 October 2012. <http://www.takepart.com/foodinc>

Groves, Jason. “The gangs dumping your recycling in the Third World: Why that effort separating your rubbish may be a waste of time.” Daily Mail; United Kingdom. 18 February 2011. Web. 27 October 2012. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1358450/The-gangs-dumping-recycling-Third-World-All-effort-separating-rubbish-waste-time.html>
Hindle, Tim. “Planned Obsolescence.” Guide to Management Ideas and Gurus. The Economist. 23 March 2009. Web. 27 October 2012. <http://www.economist.com/node/13354332>
West-Lowry, Emily. “American Culture Conundrum—The Problem with Buying Cheap Stuff.” 01 September 2012. Web. 27 October 2012. <http://www.emilywestlowry.com/2012/09/american-culture-conundrum-problem-with.html>