The Harm of Affluence

Draft, in construction 30 July 2020

We are used to thinking that affluence is good and a worthy end at which to aim, but in fact it has caused, and increasingly causes, harm to the world, in several aspects. The affluent lifestyle and the affluent GDP alike are bloated with non-essentials. This page begins to itemise and discuss the kinds of harm done.

Unnecessary foreign holiday travel.

Unnecessary personal travel.

Every mile (kilometer) driven contributes to climate change because of the fossil fuels burned and converted to greenhouse gases. Even electric transport currently requires 70%-90% fossil fuels. Many birds are killed by cars and trucks, and many mammals and good insects. Indirect harm: Increase in road traffic pressures governments to build more roads and widen roads. Main roads act as major barriers to wildlife movement, so that if a population dies out in one place, it cannot be refilled from other places. So biodiversity suffers. Let us reduce traffic, so that wildlife can move about better. Let us voluntarily reduce the number and length of our car journeys.

Extravagance in entertainment.

The film industry spreads selfish attitudes throughout the world, and these are adopted as 'normal' or 'aspirational'. So does theatre, TV and radio plays, soaps and novels. Especially, the depiction of marriage and family life as 'boring' or 'problematic'. See Simone Weil's insight that

"Nothing is so beautiful and wonderful,
    nothing is so continually fresh and surprising,
    so full of sweet and perpetual ecstacy,
as the good.

No desert is so dreary, monotonous, and boring
as evil.

This is the truth about authentic good and evil.

With fictional good and evil it is the other way round.
Fictional good is boring and flat,              
    while fictional evil is varied and intriguing,
        attractive, profound, and full of charm."

The undermining of family life by a surfeit of entertainment is harming the entire world, especially in non-Western cultures.

Extravagant 'hospitality'.

In the UK, 30% of food is wasted, much of it exotic food (see below). The production of food, especially meat, generates major climate change emissions (greenhouse gases), both via the energy used in producing fertilizers and in the methane emissions from animals. Transport of food also generates greenhouse gases. Mainly by the hospitality industry but also because of home hospitality. (The real meaning of hospitality is to offer shelter and food to those who cannot pay; the corrupt meaning is to put on lavish extravagent food in order to impress people and make them think well of us.) When hospitality

Exotic food

Extravagance in gadgets

Non-essential goods. On 8 April 2020, the UK Road Haulage Association reported that 46% of the UK truck fleet was parked up because nobody was purchasing "non-essentials".

Luxury art ...?

Unnecessary business trips

Unnecessary business lunches

Unnecessary meetings

Unnecessary business reports, ...

Over-reliance on league tables

Seeking prestige

Iconic projects


Note. On Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change

Every mile (kilometer) flown contributes to climate change because of the fossil fuels burned and converted to greenhouse gases. Flying is the worst form of transport, per person-km, being maybe ten times worst than train.

Note that only the 20% most affluent people in the world ever fly, yet the climate disruption caused lands on the poorest.

Note. On Animals

Most of the following material comes from Dr. Philip Sampson, to whom many thanks. See Philip's book, Animal Ethics and the Nonconformist Conscience, for more.

It might be no accident that, in Genesis 1, mammals and humans were created on the same 'day', strongly suggesting kinship rather than superiority. Thomas Ken's ancient doxology "Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below" expresses a Biblical theme that all animals, and indeed all Creation, form a choir of cosmic praise to the Creator, with humans as leading that song (e.g. Psalms 104, 148). Do we usually leave this insight with the hymn sheet in the pew? Not only do we go home and eat the choir, but we pay an industry to provide animal flesh, knowing that it routinely entails the physical and sexual abuse animals, to serve what Paul calls the 'belly god'.

C.H. Spurgeon was very outspoken about those who claim to be Christians but who are cruel to animals. Does not Proverbs 12:10 tell us that animal cruelty is wickedness? Leviticus 18 tells us the bestiality is wrong. Around two-thirds of novel viruses originated in animal populations and were transmitted to humans as a result of the cruel way we exploit God's creatures. If it turns out, as is likely, that Covid-19 originated in this way, then it poses serious questions about how we treat animals. This is in addition to the fact that animal farming, with its travel and other processes, is the largest source of greenhouse gases.

Humans have responsibility to be good shepherds of the animal kingdom. It was, as one nonconformist put it, "sin which taught the master to eat the servant", and heinous evil has extended this to widespread, non-essential gluttony. This responsibility extends form individual choices about eating to national decisions about animal welfare.

Scripture refers to the restoration of animal-human relationships. The gospel is good news for animals. Historically, when christians have turned to the bible, animals have benefited, both individually and legislatively. Jesus shows us what this looks like. From the outset of His ministry to His entry into Jerusalem, Jesus sets us an example of how we should treat animals. Should not Christians represent Jesus properly in this matter? If we changed our treatment of animals to facilitate their disclosure and worship of God, many environmental issues would be alleviated.