Today is "Buy Nothing Day" all over the US. So, if your life has become an almost non-stop frenzy of mall, catalog or Internet shopping, especially at this time of year, relax. Take the day off!
Tomorrow is "No Shop Day" in Europe. This international event (originated by the Media Foundation in Vancouver, British Columbia) will be observed in Australia, Canada, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Poland and Slovenia. The prevailing theme:"Enough is enough!"
"Buy Nothing Day" provides an opportunity to reflect on our consumption habits and their effects on personal finances. The mainstream media frequently stresses the importance of budgeting and responsible spending, especially during the holidays, in these times easy credit and enormousdebts. Or, as David Bouchier said in his essay earlier this week, "If you want to get rich, try buying nothing." Once you have life's basics, living below your means is the most reliable road to riches.
Not shopping today also gives us a chance to think about the effects of our purchases on families, communities and ecosystems all over the Earth. Is shopping really the way to buy happiness, friendship or environmental sustainability?
This event brings global patterns into focus, too. According to the United Nation's 1998 Human Development Report, "86% of expenses for personal consumption are made by just 1/5 of the world's population." That means that 4/5 of the world's people get to divide up a mere 14% of global consumption. "Buy Nothing Day" asks us to question an economic ideology that maintains that what the global economy needs is for consumers in the world's richest countries to spend increasingly more money and buy more material goods. This, in a world where nearly a billion people don't even get enough food or clean water each day!
This pattern of buying and spending increases the division between the "haves" and the "have-nots." Excess consumption by the rich (which in a global context includes most of the residents of this country) not only uses up limited and non-renewable resources, it increasingly pollutes the planet in ways which limit the production of food and other renewable resources.
For example, gluttonous consumption of fish in wealthy countries has depleted most of the world's fisheries, many of which were formerly reliable sources of low-cost protein for the world's coastal poor. Our voracious energy consumption produces greenhouse gases which are likely to make tropical storms worse. The devastating effects of Hurricane Mitch on Third World nations provides the most recent example. Bangladesh, the Philippines and other crowded, poor and low-lying places become even more impoverished as they are ravaged by typhoons. Storms and erratic weather patterns, intensified by climate-change, seem to be occurring nearly everywhere with increasing frequency.
More and more of the things we buy are made either in a far away country (or ghetto sweatshop) by poorly-paid women and children, or by machines in a government-subsidized factory here.
And, look at the mounds of trash! While our possessions swell to fill ever-larger houses and ever-more storage units, we still manage to throw out an average of one ton of trash, per person, every year. And, that's almost nothing compared to the waste left behind at the mines, factories, farms and processing plants which produce the goods we buy.
Our excessive consumption impoverishes the planet and the lives of our children and grandchildren. We become little more than cogs in a global growth machine. We go to work to get money to buy goods and services which, before long, become obsolete and wind up on the trash pile. Earn to buy. Live to shop. So many people are looking for elusive happiness in the mall, auto showroom or catalog.
However, "Buy Nothing Day" may be even more important for its positive effects on individuals and families. This holiday season give gifts of your time and attention to those you love. Give your friends "gift exemption certificates." Then they'll know you'd prefer not to receive a purchased gift.
When we buy less, we will all be richer in the long run. Start by buying nothing today.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
This page and its contents are copyright © 1998 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.