Thursday, 15 October 2009

The end is nigh

It's a funny old thing, this climate change. There's precious little sign of it in my everyday life. I carry on eating, drinking, sleeping, driving, socialising as if nothing unusual is happening.

Yet the scientists tell us all the time that the world's climate is drastically changing and if we don't take radical action our normal lifestyles will collapse.

Well, I have to believe that many scientists must be right. So I alter my habits wherever I can to do my bit to prevent armageddon. It remains to be seen if armageddon really is upon us.

The biggest problem, we are told, is that we all (in the West at least) consume far too much. We're forever rushing after the latest fashionable accessory or car or bit of furniture, and we never stop to think how many of the world's resources are being squandered and how much it's polluting the environment.

And all that's fed by the modern idea of shopping-as-leisure-activity which has somehow replaced shopping-for-what-you-need. Once upon a time if we needed something we went out and bought it. End of story.

Nowadays there are flashy shopping malls everywhere we go and we're encouraged to go shopping as a pastime in itself, something to do on a rainy day, somewhere to take the kids and have a meal while we're at it.

Of course while we're there we find ourselves picking up all sorts of bits and pieces, some of which we need and some we never even thought of until we saw them beckoning from a shop window.

So - more plundered resources, more pollution. And then when we have a periodic clearout, if the junked items can't be recycled they create yet more unwanted, festering landfill*.

But if you still believe in shopping-as-necessity, you're regarded as a bit of a crank who's still living in a bygone age.

So there's the question for climate scientists. How do we put a brake on the shop-till-you-drop culture? How do we take the shine off those tempting malls?

* The UK still dumps 54% of its waste in landfill. The German figure is 1%

This post is part of Blog Action Day which this year looks at climate change. Over 13,000 blogs in 155 countries took part, including Baino in Sydney.


Suburbia said...

Now it is part of our culture I think it will take some time to modify it. It is so easy to go on as if nothing was happening, though if the scientists are right, I fear for our childrens future.

Nick said...

Suburbia - Reversing the pro-shopping culture is a bit like halting an oil tanker. It's so well established. And we all like to show off our latest acquisitions.

Thriftcriminal said...

Not only that, think of what will happen economically? If the (relatively small) drop in shopping that has taken place due to the financial crisis can produce the sort of knock on effects in employment that we are seeing now, what would happen if we were to completely revert to buy only what you need? Personally I'm all in favour of me buying only what I need, climate change or not, but we have built a system predicated on it and it's deconstruction will not be pleasant or well controlled I fear. Anyway, peak oil will shaft us well before we choose to "go back to the stone age" as some ardent progressives like to put it.

Nick said...

Thrifty - That's very true, all those people employed in retail would have to be retrained in something more useful like renewable energy. Quite an undertaking. As for peak oil, the experts disagree so much about when oil will run out I don't know who to believe. Some say oil won't peak until the 22nd century....

Liz said...

Whether we are affecting climate change or not _ and I think we must be even if it's in some small way - the lack of respect we have for this planet of ours and its limited resources is shocking. And I am as guilty as anyone else.

Leah said...

I believe our overconsumption is at the root of many problems, climatological and social and otherwise. I'm trying to do my teensy weensy part to combat that, but capitalism and consumerism have a stranglehold on most of "developed" society.

Nick said...

Liz - Lack of respect for the planet indeed. We plunder its resources as if there's no tomorrow, as if there's an endless supply of everything. There are some nasty shocks in store.

Leah - It's very difficult to reduce consumption when we're surrounded by adverts luring us to buy a thousand enticing products. There's a limit to how much we can shut out and ignore.

Baino said...

So very true about shopping having become a leisure activity. Not for me, I hate it and our local 'mall' is swarming with families on the weekend particularly. I often wonder how all the shops survive frankly there seem to be more and more. The latest financial crisis doesn't seem to have put the breaks on shopping either. The retailers won't like it but we need to make shopping less 'comfortable'. In fact the company I work for are into 'sustainable' communities and build shopping centres that look more like a conglomeration of streets to reduce air con costs, use verandahs and solar power etc. It's a new initiative and I'm not sure it will appeal to the mall rats, no escalators to hang around!

Nick said...

Baino - I also wonder how all these new shops manage to keep going and where the shoppers get all their money from. It's sad that so many people's idea of leisure is cruising round the local shopping malls.

meno said...

As long as there is money to be made, i believe that nothing will stop us.

Advertising creates a want, even if we don't need it.

I think we're doomed.

Aren't i a ray of sunshine?

Thomas said...

For me the topic of shopping/consumption makes my head spin. Without it our economic system would collapse, with it our planet collapses. Either way the human race probably ends up hunting and gathering in some messed up Atwoodian-Mad Max kind of way.

On a less ominous note I think huge improvements can be made in packaging that would not only be made of sustainble materials, but also be smaller and lighter to save on transport costs and impacts.

Also, the hyper consumerism today was fed in a large part by banks providing all kinds of credit instruments that allow people to spend way beyond their means. And that of course is the root of our current economic crisis. I think the crisis is far from over and we may all be forced to reassess our consumption asumptions.

Nick said...

Meno - Your negativity is all too justified. We're all so acclimatised to the idea of constantly buying stuff, so relentlessly bombarded by seductive advertising, that it's hard for any of us to swim against the tide.

Thomas - This is it, the economy is so over-dependent on the retail sector, any serious drop in shopping would be devastating. But as you say, the banks have encouraged more and more consumer spending rather than more useful and socially beneficial activities. And yes, packaging is ridiculously overdone.

Quickroute said...

Shopping a leisure activity! - more like torture for me but I know that here teenage kids are geting sucked into part time prostitution so they afford the real 'Prada' shoes to show off to friends - very sad and yes this comment far removed from your original point but my mind works that way!

Nick said...

Quicky - Quite often torture for me too, no way I would shop as an outing. Overpriced designer must-haves are a topic in themselves. Very sad that people are driven to such demeaning lengths to obtain them.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Consumerism has replaced meaning in many lives, even, strangely, among those who purport to know that stuff cannot provide contentment. Still we try.

I also wonder about shopping as a pastime and deplore that we have become creatures of so little imagination and intellectual energy.

Wisewebwoman said...

As you know, Nick, I'm a believer in the self-correction of Gaia. Gaia has numbered these days of brainless consumption.

I've never understood shopping as a hobby. But some of my friends do it and I love them but am baffled. I think it is part of the great emptiness so many are trying to fill with meaningless activities.

It is just about over. Look at Oz, the canary in the goldmine.


Nick said...

Heart - The dearth of intellectual energy is very noticeable, especially in our politicians who so often seem to be just drifting helplessly.

www - Ah yes, you're convinced armageddon is just round the corner! You may well be right, we're indulging in so many reckless activities it's hard to see how they can all be reversed.