Though not entirely, American culture is largely at fault in terms of environmental exploitation and pollution. America, and much of the developed world, has begun over-consuming and overproducing goods. American cultural ideologies, particularly the individualism, materialism, and separation from nature, reinforce wastefulness, consumption, and create excess pollution. Individualism allows Americans to believe that their actions do not affect others, or the world around them. Additionally, it lets American people permit companies and corporations to destroy the earth in order to make extreme profits, simply because they worked hard. Although personal achievement should not be disregarded, it cannot be used to justify profiting off of the exploitation of the world and people. Materialistic values cause people to gauge success by level of consumption, and quantity of material goods. Not only does it contribute to increased consumption, but also increased waste. Additionally, planned obsolescence, the policy of designing consumer items with the intention to wear out or become out-of-style, causes an increase of consumption and higher profits, but also creates more waste of produced goods, and more waste of components. Additionally, with this policy becoming more widespread among American companies, extreme waste and short-lived products have become the norm in the American life, thus permitting the people to waste things that might not even be designed with this policy in mind.
The textbook, Social Problems, lists several cultural beliefs that contribute to Americans’ wastefulness, pollutive behaviors, and general destruction of the world around them. The view of nature as a conquerable tool for production allows American people and corporations to justify the destruction of the earth, as well as to separate themselves from nature and its problems. Consumption of technology and electricity are essentially forced upon the American people, and with this extreme rate of consumption is the faith that any environmental problems can be solved with this fancy new equipment and scientific breakthroughs. Corporate marketing has created cultural significance in possessing new things, and getting rid of older, worse things, which contributes hugely to the fast waste of products, especially technology. Materialism and the implication that material wealth is equivalent to success in American and capitalist society causes an extreme amount of consumption in these societies. Lastly, America’s heavy weight on personal achievement and individualism leads corporations and people to indefinitely better themselves, even if those actions cause serious harm to others or the world around them. All of these cultural ideologies link very tightly with capitalist ideals and actually help to sustain the capitalist systems by increasing consumption and thereby profits and reinforcing global commodity chains and the exploitation of places outside of the United States.
Changing cultural values and economic systems is not a simple task, but I believe that it certainly can be done. Particularly, changing cultural values in a culture as new as the United States should be moderately easy. (It is worth noting that my viewpoint is extremely skewed, as I grew up in liberal progressive Portland, and have never left the west coast.) Totally, I think that the economic system the United States is under currently, is going to inevitably collapse, and thus many of the cultural values will have to be changed (if they haven’t already). I also think that the lack of law forbidding corporations from destroying colossal amounts of land (and abusing underpaid workers) for their own profits will and has lead to environmental catastrophe. In short, necessary cultural and economic changes are necessary and entirely possible to save the planet. If not for the sake of the environment itself, these changes will be made as a result of corporations having no more land to exploit, and the economic growth of developing nations preventing them from exploiting them.