Buy Nothing Day poster - click to see larger
Economic growth may one day turn out to be a curse rather than a good.
So I've decided to take part in Buy Nothing Day this Saturday the 29th.
At least I'll try. It will be interesting to see just how often I have to restrict myself. And it will be interesting too to pay attention to the kinds of things I want/need to purchase, and find out just how much my lifestyle is driven by, or structured around, what I consume.
I guess with the current financial crisis and downturns in the retail sector a lot of community minded people might see this as a good time to be out there spending. And they're right. The problem is that that spending money today is a only ever going to serve as a quick fix to the current downturn, and does nothing to address the underlying fact that our current economic models are fundamentally unsustainable.
Because, of course, our financial markets, not to mention our lifestyles, rely on constant growth and expansion. The definition of a recession, or depression for that matter, is a lack of growth. In order to survive in our current economic structure; a business has to expand. Children are expected to have a better standard of living than their parents, and this usually translates into a larger house, and more consumer goods. The developed world needs to be able to access the markets of the developing world in order to maintain expansion, and when people in countries like India and China access those markets, they are also obliged to embrace the associated behaviors of growth, expansion and consumption.
The problem of course is that infinite growth is not sustainable. It just can't happen. If everyone in the world lived like I do we would need 4 planets to live on. Which means I use up the resources of three other people. Clearly my current lifestyle is not sustainable, or at least it's only sustainable if I can make sure that the other three guys aren't going to ever want more (or take more). And even that's impossible, because in order to maintain my current lifestyle, we need to expand our markets, which means trying to get those three other guys to buy the stuff we make. The more I do that, the more they're going to become like me... and... it's a vicious cycle.
A very Faustian choice is upon us: whether to accept our corrosive and risky behavior as the unavoidable price of population and economic growth, or to take stock of ourselves and search for a new environmental ethic.
Edward O. Wilson
So what do we do?
I wish I had an answer.
I especially wish I had an answer which I'd want to hear if I was working in the retail sector.
I think we could start the process of change by..
- thinking about the problem and admitting that things are not working...that they're really really not working.
- not letting the urgent always take precedent over the important (I think Leo said something like this in the West Wing episode '365 days').
- growing to understand ourselves; paying attention to our behavior, and recognising the cultural forces which drive us to behave in certain ways. We need to learn to see the paradigms we operate within which function to make some aspects of our lives visible (this deodorant looks cool, I'll buy it), and render other aspects invisible (the product will last a month but it's packaging will last an aeon in landfill).
- recognising that if we continue to trust in a kind of laissez-faire-capitalism style of philosophy that suggests that if we leave things to their own devices everything will work itself out, we just might end up with a world we don't want to live in...or worse.
- seeing that the economic system as we know it (with the underlying requirement of constant growth) isn't inevitable. It is a relatively new idea historically (200 years or so) and that there are lots of other existing models for barter and exchange of goods which might be more sustainable.
Maybe after Saturday I'll understand more about how I operate; what's driving my needs, desires and behaviors? What and who am I now, and what I want to become...
Maybe. Anyway - will let you know how I go.
Are you doing it? Let me know if you're doing an event (especially in Melbourne) or otherwise tell me how your BND goes!