Devouring The Planet: Humankind’s Addiction to Stuff
Anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, simply must visit a website by photographer Chris Jordan. Jordan uses his photography combined with the power of Photoshop to illustrate how our waste adds up on a daily basis. It’s truly illuminating, and is a must-see for anyone concerned with humanity’s impact on the environment.
Another small piece of highly-necessary viewing is a short web-video called The Story of Stuff. It’s a brilliant explanation of how our addiction to material goods is affecting the planet, and us. One statistic that stands out in my mind is that for each bag of trash that we put out at the curb, another five (unseen) bags was wasted to produce it. In other words, each bag of trash actually equals six. That’s one reason why recycling simply isn’t enough. We must put into practice the first two steps in the ecological slogan, “Reduce, reuse AND recycle.” Recycling is the final step, but the first two are perhaps even more important, and more effective at cutting down our actual footprint.
Reducing our consumption significantly is something that the economic situation will force us all to do eventually, but there is no need to wait until that happens. Our addiction to material goods and to the never-ending cycle of replacing old with new keeps us enslaved (deliberately, by those who profit from it), and it keeps the planet in slavery to us. Ironically, our desire to consume, if left unchecked, will consume the very planet itself.
There is a practical way to cure this addiction. We can fulfill our needs while maintaining our ecological integrity. I believe that this requires a two-fold shift in values. First, we must break free from the belief that one’s consumption is a direct indication of one’s wealth and therefore social status. Second, we must break free from the idea that an item’s value deteriorates as it gets older, whether or not it is still functioning.
In the United States, for example, items of clothing in perfectly good condition are thrown away in vast quantities on a daily basis. Some go to the thrift stores and end up being thrown away anyway, because the amount that is discarded is simply too much. Imagine what people in Bangladesh or Haiti would think if they could see video footage of all the clothing thrown into the landfills every day. With the items we waste, we could clothe the entire population of the world, while Westerners keep flooding into The Gap and department stores and Wal-Mart, and buying designer underwear and Doc Martens, while people in the under-developed nations wear rags and no shoes at all.
For the things that we do need, buying second-hand can be very empowering, allowing us more financial freedom, and fuelling our self-esteem, as we take pride in the fact that we have met our needs without demanding that the planet use more of its resources to make new stuff.
I believe that the economic crisis, along with our ecological crisis, will force us into a situation where we are required to re-evaluate our needs. Before that happens, those of us who are aware of this situation have a head-start. Instead of waiting for a crisis to push us into limiting our consumption, we have the opportunity to do it ourselves, right now. All it takes is the willingness to change the way we think and feel about material goods, and the willingness to question whether or not our purchases are driven by need. If the answer is no, then perhaps we are motivated instead by a hunger for fulfillment on a deeper level, which more than likely will not be satisfied by another trip to the mall.