Tag Archives: Climate change

The Day The World Stops Shopping

“We must stop shopping but we can’t stop shopping: the consumer dilemma has become, quite simply, the question of whether we can sustain human life on Earth.” (page 12)

You can see from the number of Post-it tabs on the pages of this book that there are A LOT of passages I need to return to for additional reflection.

From the back jacket: “In North America, we burn the earth’s resources at a rate five times faster than they can regenerate. Despite our effort to “green” our consumption, we have yet to see a decline in global carbon emissions. And economists say we must always consume more, because even the slightest drop in spending leads to widespread unemployment, bankruptcy and home foreclosures. Author J.B. MacKinnon addresses this paradox head-on. Is there a way to reduce consumption without triggering an economic collapse?”

It may sound ‘dry’ but it’s not. MacKinnon is an engaging writer. The book is a brilliant thought experiment that is as full of hope as it is of amazing and well-researched material. I could not stop reading and want to share this book with everyone I know. But because I also know that ‘everyone’ won’t find time to read it I’ll share some (and there are SO many) quotes from the book.

(page 60) (referring to the early months of the pandemic) Many people said the air had cleared because everyone was staying home. A more precise cause is that the consumer economy had stalled. Factories were closed. Planes weren’t flying. Shipping lanes were empty. Our daily commutes to earn money, or to spend it, were called off. It was the consumer dilemma made piercingly clear: our economics are driven by consumption, yet consumption drives our carbon emissions. The relationship is so strong that climate scientists have long used growth in one as an indicator of growth in the other. Accelerate the fashion cycle, and you accelerate climate change: cut back on the Christmas spending spree, and fewer CO2 molecules enter the atmosphere that year. Yet addressing climate change by reducing the scale of our consumption has never been seriously considered by political leaders.

(page 162) In a world in which billions of people already have enough apparel, the only way to keep them buying is to generate unnecessary demand. The way to create unnecessary demand is to accelerate fashion trends. The way to accelerate fashion trends is to make clothes cheap enough to buy more and more often. And the only way to make clothes that cheap is to cut corners on quality, working conditions, wages or environmental standards – the disaster of everyday life that Bangladesh has been living for years.

(page 247) Anti-consumers are more likely to engage with issues such as climate change, species extinction, racial injustice and poverty – matters that can be disturbing, depressing or even frightening. Since engagement with such topics is congruent with their values, however, it makes life meaningful – but perhaps not cheerful.

(page 10) Those who warn against consumerism have made two main arguments. The first is that a love for money and things indulges the lesser angels of our nature, such as greed, vanity, envy and wastefulness. The second is that every moment you spend thinking about money and things is a moment that could have been spent making a greater contribution to the human community through service, the pursuit of knowledge or the life of the spirit.

(page 83) …low or no economic growth was the norm through nearly all of human history.

(page 292) This book began with a question: Can we solve the consumer dilemma? The answer is yes, we can. In slowing an economy bound to endless expansion, we only rejoin the longer trend of more gradual growth seen throughout most of history: with ingenuity, we can adapt. The more personal question – whether we want to go down this path – is harder to answer. The evidence suggests that life in a lower-consuming society really can be better, with less stress, less work or more meaningful work, and more time for the people and things that matter most. The objects that surround us can be well made or beautiful or both, and stay with us long enough to become vessels for our memories and stories. Perhaps best of all, we can savour the experience of watching our exhausted planet surge back to life: more clear water, more blue skies, more forests, more nightingales, more whales.

If we care at all about future generations something has to give. Please read the book. You will be fascinated, shocked and, most importantly, inspired.

Pre-loved

When my daughters were very young I used to set them loose in our local thrift shop a couple times each year. They loved choosing clothes, toys and books. And I loved that  I could outfit them for so little money.

Fast forward to their teen years. I didn’t dare suggest second-hand shopping in those days. Brand names and fitting-in were all  important so they had to settle for less in order to stay within the budget. I forgot about buying ‘pre-loved’ merchandise for awhile.

Recently a friend invited me to volunteer with her at a large church-run thrift shop. I hadn’t been in one for years and my last volunteer job had been at a grizzly bear refuge, helping care for the bears. That work had been so interesting.  Could working in a thrift shop come even close to being as rewarding?

The answer is yes. Absolutely. Maybe even more so. I get such satisfaction in seeing all those clothes and household goods get repurposed. I love watching the shoppers fill their baskets with treasures that they may not otherwise have been able to afford. I love knowing that the money earned by the store is channelled into worthwhile charities. And I wonder, why have I not been shopping in thrift shops all these years?

And as I become more involved in fighting climate change I realize how important the whole economy of second hand buying/selling is for our planet.

“According to the Journal of Industrial Ecology, mass consumerism is bad for the environment in a myriad of ways. Millions of shoppers buying and then discarding smartphones and TV’S, for instance, contribute to the fifty million tons of e-waste the world generates each year. If you were to add up all the stuff people around the world consume, everything from food to birthday presents to toilet-bowl cleaner, it would total a whopping 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and between 50 and 80 percent of total water, land and material use.” (from Hope Matters by Elin Kelsey)

So repurposing those items that we no longer need/want is a good solution. Our belongings are kept out of the landfill and charities reap the rewards. Less  ‘stuff’ has to be manufactured. Fewer natural resources are consumed.

And in the ‘what goes around comes around’ category, one daughter recently showed up wearing a beautiful  dress.  It looked fantastic on her.  “Where did you get it?” I asked.

“Thrift shop,” she answered.