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August 17th, 2011

Consumer culture leads to overuse of energy



Dear EarthTalk: I don’t hear much about the environmental impacts of our consumer culture any more, but it seems to me that our "buy, buy, buy" mentality is a major contributor to our overuse of energy and resources. Are any organizations addressing this issue today? - M. Oakes, Miami, FL

There is no doubt that our overly consumerist culture is contributing to our addiction to oil and other natural resources and the pollution of the planet and its atmosphere.

Unfortunately the tendency to acquire and even horde valuable goods may be coded into our DNA. Researchers contend that humans are subconsciously driven by an impulse for survival, domination and expansion which finds expression in the idea that economic growth will solve all individual and worldly ills. Advertising plays on those impulses, turning material items into objects of great desire imparting intelligence, status and success.

William Rees of the University of British Columbia reports that human society is in a "global overshoot," consuming 30 percent more material than is sustainable from the world’s resources. He adds that 85 countries are exceeding their domestic "bio-capacities" and compensate for their lack of local material by depleting the stocks of other countries.

Of course, every one of us can do our part by limiting our purchases to only what we need and to make responsible choices when we do buy something. But those who might need a little inspiration to get started should look to the Adbusters Media Foundation, a self-described "global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age."

Among the foundation’s most successful campaigns is Buy Nothing Day, an international day of protest typically "celebrated" the Friday after Thanksgiving in North America (so-called Black Friday, one of the year’s busiest shopping days) and the following Saturday in some 60 other countries. The idea is that for one day a year we commit to not purchase anything, and to help spread the anti-consumerist message to anyone who will listen, with the hope of inspiring people to consume less and generate less waste. The first Buy Nothing Day took place in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1992 with a few dozen participants, but today hundreds of thousands of people take part.

In recent years some anti-consumerists have added Buy Nothing Christmas to their agendas as well. Some ideas for how to leverage Buy Nothing Christmas sentiment without looking too much like Scrooge include giving friends and family "gift exemption" cards and asking shoppers in line at a big box store, "What would Jesus buy?"

Beyond Buy Nothing Day and Buy Nothing Christmas, the Adbusters Media Foundation stokes the fire of anti-consumerism throughout the year via its bimonthly publication, Adbusters, an ad-free magazine with an international circulation topping 120,000. Do yourself a favor and subscribe... and cancel all those catalogs stuffing up your mailbox in the meantime.

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