TL;DR: our planet can't sustain the rate at which we make, use and discard stuff; the solution is not "environmentally friendly" replacement stuff but rejecting consumerism and coming up with a new vision for how we flourish as humans; a list of actions you can take to challenge your consumer mindset. This one is magical and mind-changing, you guys!
"We are already outside the safe operating space of the planet we live on."
These words were spoken a decade ago, by a professor of sustainable development at the 2010 UN Commission for Sustainable Development.
The topic under discussion was the problem of consumerism and the need to re-think the rate at which we produce, use and discard shit we don't need. (I'm paraphrasing.)
From the coverage of the panel:
"Prof. Jackson said Western consumerism uses too much energy and produces too much carbon dioxide per unit of economic growth.
What is needed, said Prof. Jackson and other panelists, is a reconsideration of the consumer culture that so relentlessly urges people to adopt a lifestyle based on the acquisition of new and more material goods.
"We are encouraged to spend money we don't have on things we don't need to create impressions that don't last on people we don't care about," was how Prof. Jackson characterised the current culture of consumption.
"We need a better concept of prosperity, a shared prosperity, a lasting prosperity, a prosperity built around the concept of people's capacity to flourish, within the confines of a finite planet," said Prof. Jackson."
(Read the full article here.)
If you're all like "consumerism wut", here's a tiny history lesson (and it explains how you definitely do this and how you got here). Basically, when the industrial revolution made mass production possible, manufacturers lost their bananas and got over-excited. They started making so much stuff....way more stuff than anybody actually needed. The rate of production was able to easily meet and exceed the rate of demand.
Obviously, if you're an ambitious little producer of goods, your business sense tells you that if you could SELL stuff at the rate you're able to MAKE it, you'd become incredibly rich! So, do that! What a great idea!
This entrepreneurial enthusiasm generated to two cultural phenomena we now take for granted: modern marketing and "planned obsolescence". In English, that means we're sold things we don't need, and the things aren't made to last any more. As recently as our grandparents' generation, people expected to set up house with their wedding gifts and have that stuff for their whole lifetimes. A set of pots and pans lasted fifty years. Now stuff is designed to last a couple of years at most, so you'll have to buy a new one. And even if an object lasts, "trends" (completely arbitrary constructions, obviously) dictate the way we need to upgrade and replace our stuff at regular intervals. Plus, marketing sells us items we don't even need ever, at all.
It's why we take it for granted that we'll upgrade our iPhones every two years (ahem I'm still rocking my iPhone 5, so take that THE MAN), buy a new dress for every wedding we attend and fill our kitchen cabinets with ludicrous, single-use appliances and utensils. (Avocado slicer, anybody?)
The bottom line is this: our planet is too small to sustain the rate at which we manufacture and discard stuff. The solution does not lie in replacing all our plastic tupperware with stainless-steel containers and exclusively buying organic cotton shoes. That's just more stuff!! The solution lies in collectively slowing the rate at which we turn the planet's natural resources into goods that we keep for a year then shove back into landfill.
We need to collectively cool our purchasing ambitions. We need to completely re-think the way we consume. We need to built our shared culture on something more meaningful, less resource-intensive, than stuff. We need to become un-consumers.
Just start noticing how much unnecessary stuff we consume.
1. Every time you use something, consider how your life would be different without it. Start questioning things we take for granted. Do we even need straws? Hair straighteners? Rice cookers? Beach chairs? Throw pillows? Nail polish? A vegetable spiraliser? An ironing board? What single-purpose products could be covered by a multi-use items? Which items are pure frippery?
(Random example: I haven't used a clothes peg in years. Just saying...the clothes stay on the line by themselves.)
2. Every time you use something disposable or easily degradable, ask yourself what people used before this existed. What did we use instead of tissues, disposable chux, pore masks, takeaway containers, plastic toothbrushes, band-aids, tinsel, paper napkins, eyelash extensions, bottled water? (In some cases, nothing. See point 1.)
3. Every time you acquire something new, ask yourself where it will go when you're finished with it. Owning this item comes with the great weight of disposing of it, eventually. How will you do that? If you don't know where it goes after you throw it in the bin, find out.
Ban plastic straws. Just don't use paper ones, because they're awful. (Light hearted, but read to the end)
Why you should stop donating your stuff (and do this first)
Your basic run-down on Consumerism.