Written By: - Date published: 2:23 pm, January 5th, 2017 - 84 comments
Categories: boycott, business, capitalism, climate change, disaster, Economy, Environment, sustainability - Tags: christmas landfill, climate change, pathological consumption, the consumption economy
George Monbiot writes,
There’s nothing they need, nothing they don’t own already, nothing they even want. So you buy them a solar-powered waving queen; a belly button brush; a silver-plated ice cream tub holder; a “hilarious” inflatable zimmer frame; a confection of plastic and electronics called Terry the Swearing Turtle; or – and somehow I find this significant – a Scratch Off World wall map.
They seem amusing on the first day of Christmas, daft on the second, embarrassing on the third. By the twelfth they’re in landfill. For thirty seconds of dubious entertainment, or a hedonic stimulus that lasts no longer than a nicotine hit, we commission the use of materials whose impacts will ramify for generations.
Researching her film The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard discovered that of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale. Even the goods we might have expected to hold onto are soon condemned to destruction through either planned obsolescence (breaking quickly) or perceived obsolesence (becoming unfashionable).
I find the 1% figure unbelievable and was going to go fact check it. Then I realised it doesn’t matter, because at what point does the % become acceptable? Is it 20%? 50%? 95% Which of those is ok and of those which are even remotely likely? Humans now design and manufacture with the intention of passing items through the consumption chain quickly so that new consumption is needed. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.
Which leads us inevitably to this,
When you take account of the fossil fuels whose use we commission in other countries, manufacturing and consumption are responsible for more than half of our carbon dioxide production(2).
So even if we decide that the people in eastern Congo who are killed so we can have the latest smartphone are expendable, we are literally destroying that which our own families’ lives depend upon (unless we decide that our grandkids are also expendable, a possibility I’m increasingly less willing to dismiss as real).
Monbiot goes on to talk about social and economic inequality and the massive degree to which governments, the media and corporations are spearheading that and the pathological consumption. Which is all meaningful and true and requires a political and humanitarian response. Yet I can’t get past the fact that it’s also us that are enthusiastic participants in the pathological consumption economy. There are people in NZ who cannot afford Christmas, so let’s leave them out of this for now. And there are low numbers of people who choose to not consume. But pretty much everyone else is actively endorsing the act of buying uncessary things that will shortly end up in the landfill. Think not? How many Christmas presents did we wrap in paper that then got thrown in the bin? And that’s not even getting to what was inside.
So while the politics need to be fought on the big scale, they also need to be fought in our own homes, workplaces and communities. We can choose to break our involvement in the parts of the consumption economy that we have control over. I’m not talking about food and shelter here, I’m talking about what is going on in our heads when we partake of eating the future. This requires resistance as much as anything, because what I am seeing is a whole bunch of justification to not change and instead blame someone else or at the least apportion responsibility to someone else. The problem with this is that no-one is coming to save us, it’s up to us now to change.
Lest the argument is made about the stupid greenie wanting to ban Christmas fun, or even the idea that wrapping paper is not a big deal in the scheme of things, I’ll make my own argument clear. We, the people, are actively complicit in the culture that is now destroying the planet. So yeah, a bit of wrapping paper in any household isn’t going to make or break climate change or prevent homicide-fueled manufacture of cell phones, but our refusal to break this madness is going to perpetuate those things, and that’s blood on our hands.
The other inevitable argument is that this requires collective politics and shouldn’t be framed at the personal level. The problem with this is that the middle classes in particular are holding on to the idea that we can consume and be ok. So while I think that we urgently need to shift from a growth economy to at least a steady state one (in truth, we need to power down), and that this shift needs to happen at a governmental level, it’s not going to while a large proportion of the individuals in society don’t want to give up their stuff. When we change what we think about stuff, our lives and what is important, then we will change what we do and that includes voting and political action.
On a final note, The Story of Stuff (where Monbiot gets the above 1% figure from) was made in 2007. We’ve had a decade, we know full well what we are doing. Time to stop.
For those of us that enjoy a nice bit of musical satire, this turned up when I googled “christmas landfill’ looking for an image for the post. Perfect.
Oh Christmas landfill… fleeting joy will never decompose…