Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cabot Circus, Consumerism, Capitalism

If having a huge new shopping centre like Cabot Circus helped us to live happier, healthier, fairer, greener lives I’d be all for it but the opposite is the truth! I'm one of the people the Bristol Evening Post Comment of 26 Sept, 'Thanks due for our new retail centre', called 'cynics, doubters and critics' but far from 'sneering and carping' as the comment said, my case against developments like this is a perfectly rational and reasonable one.The celebration and advocacy of mass consumerism, the belief that the more we consume the better off we are, from all Bristol’s mainstream politicians and the media is remarkable, particularly in these pretty unprecedented times of credit crunch, economic downturn, resource depletion and environmental degradation. The system, with its short-termist banking, sleeping regulators and politicians who have sucked-up and basked in the glow of short-term ‘success’, allows a small number of people to take the profit whilst society pays the costs. As I write I’m watching news of crisis meetings in America between Bush, McCain and Obama, some of which have ended in shouting matches, about an absolutely massive $700 billion (£380 billion) bailout plan to save the US and thus the world economy! There are doubts about this plan and whether we have the leadership and the mechanisms needed to solve this problem.

Debt-funded mass consumption around the globe is causing extremely serious and urgent economic and environmental problems. So what do we do in Bristol? Build a massive shopping centre, including one of Europes biggest car parks!! Mass consumerist societies eat up resources (sparking oil price rises) like there is no tomorrow and spew out vast amounts of climate change causing carbon and very large amounts of all kinds of wastes, though some consumers are in denial about the effects of their high consumption. Cabot Circus fights against Bristol's 'green capital' ambition. It raises the city environmental footprint, already several times what it should be for sustainability, even further. This just adds fuel to the fire of economic downturn, social division and environmental decline. Its like being beaten on the head continually with a stick and asking for more, instead of ducking and doing something to stop the beating!!

Despite this Bristol's media has been in a positive frenzy for days now about the opening of Cabot Circus, producing some great reactions on local blogs (in particular the Bristol Blogger and the Green Bristol Blog). The BBC have given a great deal of free advertising to shops, playing their part in getting people to identify strongly with the products or services they consume, especially those commercial brand names with obvious status-enhancing appeal, even though they are not supposed to advertise (see Bristol Blogger). Often luxuries and unnecessary consumer products are social messages, all about keeping up with the Joneses. Any substitution of healthy human relationships, often lacking in our communities, for relationships with products or brand names is very unhealthy. Some say mass consumerism is a social control process, part of cultural leadership in modern society.

The Bristol Evening Post produced page after page of coverage, demonstrating how our culture is thoroughly permeated by mass consumerism. Bizarrely it has simultaneously published stories of shops and consumers in trouble due to the credit crunch (example here)! You could not make it up! They have painted a picture of optimism and happiness about the Cabot Circus launch over several editions but the evidence shows that mass consumption make us less happy!

It is satisfaction, security, stability and fulfillment that makes us happy but product advertisers and marketers (helped massively by the BBC, Bristol Evening Post and mainstream politicians...) have no interest in these things. It’s in their interest to see that needs become wants and that the wants are perpetuated. Thus mass consumerism favours selling products that wear out or break, instead of being made to last. Ever-changing fashion is similarly favoured because purchases in a nearly-new and good condition ‘must’ be replaced or you ‘wont be trendy’. This maintains sales and maximises profits, from which a small number of people gain. Fostering obsession with super-rich celebrities helps here (they feature in many ads, often dominate the media and are courted by politicians).

Local councillors and MPs have enthused about shops too. Bristol City Council Leader Helen Holland said that Cabot Circus 'is a quantum leap' beyond anyone's wildest dreams! Cant she dream any wilder than shops? There must be socialists from Labour's past turning in their graves! My MP Kerry McCarthy described Cabot Circus as ‘pretty stunning’ and sparked quite a hot debate on her blog.

All I seem to have succeeded in doing by persistently arguing the green case with my MP is annoying her. Cabot Circus wont prominently feature local products, quite the opposite. People will not on the whole walk or cycle there, the focus is on driving to the very large car park (see Green Bristol Blog on poor cycle access). Genuinely green items like recycled products or second-hand goods are very far from what it’s about. Plastic bags will be given out left right and centre!! The focus of Cabot Circus is more global economy than local economy, more about a small number of people getting rich than local people meeting their needs. Would it not have been much more valuable to individuals, neighbourhoods and communities in Bristol to get together a proper strategy to maintain and develop shops, services and jobs in each locality? We need development to be localised. Cabot Circus is a million miles from local production for local needs yet this is the pattern of development we need for a happier, healthier, fairer, greener and more convivial city!

1 comment:

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