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 enormous
debts. 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
This event brings global patterns into focus, too. According to the United
Nation's 1998 Human Development Report, "Eighty-six percent of expenses for
personal consumption are made by just one fifth of the world's population."
That means that four-fifths of the world's people get to divide up a mere
14 percent 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
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 gift.
When we buy less, we will all be richer in the long run. Start by buying
This is Bill Duesing,
(C)1998, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "Living on the
Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays Living on the Earth:
Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future is available from Bill
Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14 postpaid. These essays first
appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted
weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since November 1995 are
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