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Are you a consumer or do you just move stuff?

February 17, 2016

I’ve been working on my PhD submission for the last two weeks trying to get it exactly right so that I can really get stuck into it and I’m just about there and that’s why this has come up.  Consumerism, being a consumer, consumption – weird words when applied to cosmetics, weird and a little ugly even.  I know that some people have an obsession with edible cosmetics or with eating lipsticks but not me so much.  I don’t FEEL like I consume cosmetics, I feel like I use them.  No, use is a terrible word too,  I utilise them.  But you can’t put a phrase like ‘cosmetic utilisers’ into a PhD thesis and expect to be taken seriously can you!  Can you?

Anyway, before I got all worked up about the ‘C’ word I ordered this book and it came in today:  Does Ethics Have A Chance In A World Of Consumers? By Zygmunt Bauman.  He’s the kind of person you need to read if you want to know stuff about society and social theory.

ethics and consumerism

While waiting for the book I had a discussion about my dilemma with a good friend of mine who also happens to be a University Professor.  As always happens when you talk something through my friend came out with what now seems to be a completely obvious statement of ‘well we don’t really consume these resources we just move them from one place or form to another’.  How could I have been so blind to that?

I am a chemist for goodness sake, I should know this stuff and I do.

Anyway, as often happens my light-bulb moment now seems rather obvious, extremely simple and as if we knew this stuff all along but I suspect we don’t.

Let’s have a look at that first law of thermodynamics to remind ourselves:

The Conservation of Energy = Energy can be neither created or destroyed.  

So when we make cosmetics we are literally just changing energy, moving energy about, mixing it with other energy and putting it in a bottle.

Same when we are using the cosmetic

And when we chuck it in the bin or let it flow down the sink.

When put in those terms it becomes obvious that no, we do not CONSUME these things, we merely CHANGE THEIR FORM.

The sap from a tree becomes a cosmetic becomes an effect becomes more skin becomes waste.

This is important to me because at the heart of all of my research over the last eighteen plus years has been a love of  the environment, conservationism.

And what we can’t conserve in its original form we should at least value because whatever we do to it is going to persist in one form or another.

And that’s my life’s purpose.  To work hard to promote the value of stuff.  All stuff, even you 🙂

Which is great but I’m still not sure what word to use instead of ‘consumers’.  Oh well, there is always tomorrow to worry about that.

Amanda x



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