Unintended Consequences of Consumption

Dip Your Toes into Unintended Consequences

This page offers a quick intro to the unintended consequences of consumption and how they meddle with sustainability.

Estimated reading time:
1 – 3 minutes

Go back if you’re looking for an in-depth sustainable living guide or a page with just a bit more info.

Unintended Consequences & Externalities

In season 3, episode 10 (The Book Of Dougs) of NBC’s The Good Place things seem off, but it turns out that the world is just more complicated than it used to be.

Things like buying flowers can have unintended consequences that most people don’t realize.

*spoiler alert – this clip is about 75% through the show. you may wany to skip it if you plan on watching the show, which we highly recommend!*

Here’s a quick recap of the clip —

“In 1534, Douglas Wynegar gave his grandma roses for her birthday. He picked them himself, walked them over to her, she was happy — boom, 145 points. 

Now. In 2009, Doug Ewing also gave his grandmother a dozen roses, but he lost 4 points. Why?

1) Because he ordered the roses using a cell phone that was made in a sweatshop.
2) The flowers were grown with toxic pesticides
3) They were picked by exploited migrant workers 4) and delivered from thousands of miles away, which created a massive carbon footprint,
5) His money went to a billionaire racist CEO who sends his female employees pictures of his genitals.”

Engaging Our Externalities

The sweatshop, toxic pesticides, exploited workers, carbon footprint, and billionaire racist CEO are the unintended consequences of consumption. (in economics, the externalities)

They are the things we actively consider when consciously deciding to shop at a flower store that doesn’t have a racist billionaire CEO or use pesticides, and one that does.

So how can we use the concept of externalities to make consumption more sustainable?

Unintended consequences of pesticide use on a poppy farm
The Active Consumer philosophy part 4, becoming an active consumer

Let’s assume Doug Ewing lives in an apartment across the country from his grandma. He obviously can’t hand pick the flowers and walk them over to his grandma like Doug Wynegar could, so there are going to be some externalities.

But what if when Doug Ewing bought those flowers he a) chose a flower shop closer to his grandma’s home and b) automatically donated some of the spare change to an organization teaching farmers about the benefits of no-til, organic farming, which in turn led to less pesticide usage.

In economics speak, Doug Ewing would be mitigating externalities and either a) reducing his impact directly by consciously consuming or b) funding organizations working to offset the unintended consequences of consumption..

When we consciously consume and actively engage with the economic consequences of our consumption we become more than Conscious Consumers, we become Active Consumers (see what we did there?).

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Engage Your Externalities with Econus!

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