The greenest thing you can do is simply consume less. Buying more sustainable stuff is still consumption and still has an impact. Our planet can’t afford to have us replace our fossil fuel transport with electric cars, or our plastic packaging with some other packaging. We consume too much, and imagining that we can carry on as we are and just make some slight changes isn’t going to work.
We have to slow down. We have to own less. We have to buy less, and that will help us considerably in throwing less away. Of course for many people, that’s not even an issue. For people who can’t buy enough food reliably, and who can’t afford to heat their homes, over-consumption is not the problem.
We do have a problem with cheap goods that won’t last being the only option for the poor. When you buy something cheap and badly made, you tend to pay a lot more for replacements than ever you would on one good, long lasting thing. Take the cost of a moon cup or re-usable pads against buying cheap, disposable sanitary products every month. Or buying cheap clothing that wears out within the year, versus buying something more substantial that will last a decade. It is not on poor people to fix this situation. If we are to have social justice and sustainability, we need to tackle how expensive it is to be poor, and how much unnecessary waste is caused by that. No one should be so poor that they can’t live sustainably, but the minimum wage won’t give you those options.
We’ve been sold the idea that owning more is good. We see it in terms of status and entitlement, social standing and self worth. Those are emotive things and hard to unpick, but on the other side of it is the simple fact that we are destroying the only planet we have.
We’re heading into the season of obscene overconsumption. Over the coming weeks we will all be encouraged to eat far more food than is good for us, drink more alcohol than is wise, buy throwaway clothes – like the wretched Christmas jumpers. We’ll be encouraged to buy more stuff for people who don’t need stuff, and buy paper to wrap it in so we can throw that away afterwards. We will be encouraged to kill a tree, or buy a plastic tree substitute and fill our homes with shiny plastic rubbish to feel ‘festive’. Many of us will put on a great many extra lights and increase our energy use for good measure.
Commercialmass has already begun, and the shops are filling with it. Which makes this a good time of year to give some serious thought to what you, and the people around you actually need. It’s a good time to remind each other that we all need clean air, and none of us need the oceans to be choked with plastic. We need living trees and we do not need wrapping paper. We do not need to send tons of uneaten leftovers to landfill or even recycling, while other people go hungry.
If you can afford to exchange gifts, you probably don’t need them. If you can’t afford them, you certainly don’t need to go into debt trying to keep up. Give less. Give thoughtfully. Give responsibly.