A Gift for the Earth
It’s a poignant time of year to be writing about how we need to be changing our consumption habits and buying less stuff. We’re thinking about what we will buy for our friends, family and co-workers to show our appreciation and love for them. It’s just that we can no longer ignore the evidence that we are, and have been for almost 50 years, consuming more of our Earth’s resources that can be regenerated in that year. It’s called “Earth Overshoot.” In 2019 Earth Overshoot Day was July 29.
Since the 50’s we’ve been programmed to buy stuff not only to provide basic necessities, but also o fulfill our emotional and spiritual needs as well. Here’s what economist and retail analyst Victor Lebow said at that time of emerging abundance:
Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction and our ego satisfaction in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate.
You may be asking how consumerism relates to our current social, political and environmental crises? Everything we produce and buy has an environmental cost because all products require energy to make. So whatever we buy has emitted CO2 into the atmosphere. It is likely to have been shipped great distances which adds to greenhouse gas emissions. Whatever we buy has used Earth resources that may or may not be renewable.
Everything we create and buy has a social cost as well. It’s likely that the thing we buy, especially if it is “cheap,” has been made in a country where wages are minimal and working conditions are unhealthy. The quality of the product is consequently low and will end up in the landfill in a very short time, further polluting our planet. Then we have to go buy another similar product. The only benefit is to the bottom line of the company who makes this stuff.
Simply put: Every bit of avoided consumption is a positive for the planet. We have to break the spell that the consumer culture has wafted over us, driving us to “shop till we drop.” What’s going to drop is the Earth, and we along with her.
So as we think of gifts for folks this Christmas let us think of gifts that express our affection and have minimal impact on the Earth. Let us give gifts to the Earth by buying less stuff!
Here’s what I wrote two years ago which further elaborates on this all-consuming topic:
Do you know the Story of Stuff? It begins with the Earth. The short version is that we exploit and extract all kinds of natural resources that we then turn into all kinds of stuff often with the use of toxic chemicals and cheap, hard labor. The result is stuff that is “designed for the dump.” We are glad our stuff is so cheap, but usually that is because the invisible costs to our health, the well being of workers and the vitality of the Earth are not counted when our stuff is rung up at the cash register.
The saddest part of this story is that we are led to believe, and told over and over by advertising, that it is this very stuff that will make us happy, that will satisfy our need for acceptance, self-esteem, connection, power and meaning in our lives. We’re led to believe that our primary value in society is to drive the growth economy forward by being active consumers. Unquestionably we have to consume to live, to provide essentials for ourselves and our family. But to think of ourselves just as consumers is a) demeaning, and b) destructive. It completely disregards our personal talents, gifts, creativity and true human needs for the sake of economic growth that favors only a few of us at the expense of people and the Earth.
How do we write a new story? Once we recognize the fallacy and the con job of this story we can choose to change how we live personally and change the policies that drive this wasteful and destructive system. We can change our values and priorities from worshipping money and economic growth at any price to caring for all life. In the words of the Network of Spiritual Progressives we can adopt a New Bottom Line.
A New Bottom Line is one that judges the success of every sector, system and institution of our society (economy, government, schools, health care, the legal system) based not on the old bottom line of whether they maximize money, profit and power, but instead by the extent to which they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, empathy and compassion, social, economic and environmental justice, peace and nonviolence, and protection of the life support system of our planet, as well as encourage us to transcend a narrow utilitarian approach to nature and other human beings and enhance our capacity to respond with awe and wonder to the universe and to see the sacred in others and in all sentient beings.
This New Bottom Line prioritizes the well-being of the planet and all its inhabitants, as well as justice and peace, over money, profit and power. We call this a New Bottom Line – Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Planet. See the Network of Spiritual Progressives for more about "A New Bottom Line."
The bottom line is that where we can consume less we should. Every thing we buy has a history of resources, labor, manufacturing methods and greenhouse gas emissions. We can learn that history and make wise choices when we shop. We also need to see the bigger picture: many people can only afford to buy cheap stuff because the system is not designed to support our collective well being. As citizens of the world we can become aware of the policies and practices that support an untenable story, work to change those that do not support Life, and advocate for those that do.
People wrote this story. People can write a new story. We are already doing just that and everyone is invited and needed to create the story the works for all.
RESOURCES ABOUT STUFF
"The Story of Stuff," by Annie Leonard. An essential film.
"Conscious Consumerism is a Lie—Here's a Better Way to Save the World."
For the Love of Earth
The Next System Project
Local Futures—The Economics of Happiness
A New Bottom Line—The Network of Spiritual Progressive
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