“If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that the economy crashes once people stop buying stuff they do not need.”
Before you finish reading this article, millions of tonnes of goods will have been purchased and are being packed onto trucks, trains, planes or ships. This year I read a report which highlighted that even before the pandemic, freight shipping produced more emissions than the aviation industry? What! I was shocked, 11 BILLION tonnes of products are shipped globally every year. And you and I both know that the majority of these goods are obsolete within less than a few years and much makes its way to landfill. At what cost is this to the environment? Well in addition to those emissions, the finite resources that we are consuming for our global increasing demand for stuff due drive increased mining, deforestation and pollution. Globally, we are consuming more than our planet can replenish through natural processes. As a collective, we consume 1.7 Earths every year, but this figure jumps up to as many as 3 or more Earths for rich nations such as the USA, Australia and Canada. The compounding injustice of this fact is that the consumption of resources (including clean air and water), is not evenly distributed. The western world sought after cheap labour and resources, this lead to developing nations (including China) bearing the brunt of this as governments attempted to lift their people out of poverty.
“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there'd be peace.” ― John Lennon
The severity of the climate crisis and the decline of biodiversity is well understood. So can we continue with this hyper-consumerism society where we keep buying more and more stuff, eating diets that are far from sustainable and partaking is practises that drive up emissions? The headlines on the daily news suggest we can; “Record Sales as Christmas Approaches”. It has been a tough year and the evil machine that is consumer marketing wants to fill the suffering we have all endured with unnecessary stuff. Apparently, we need the latest Apple product. We need the newest Nike shoes. We need stuff.
“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
Do we really need stuff though? Materialism is not a true source of happiness nor life satisfaction. Just like contemporary governments, it’s a short term solution destined for long term suffering. We don’t grow, progress, succeed or become truly happy through the accumulation of stuff. Philosophers world over will tell you the reality is that we begin to head in the right direction once we change our approach. Through learning. Through sharing. Through relationships. Through love. Through living. You may be reading this with gifts intended for your children, perhaps even grandchildren. But the burning question remains ever so relevant, what good is stuff on a planet that it cannot be used? Reflecting on my relationships with grandparents and parents, it isn't the stuff they bought me for Christmas when I was a kid that I cherish nor miss, it is the conversations, the experiences, the smiles, the laughs, the shared knowledge and the memories.
“All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.” ― Noam Chomsky
This holiday season, we should challenge ourselves to fight the status quo. I want to say change the very nature of giving, but I think it is more appropriate to say restore. Preference experiences over stuff. Preference home-made stuff over stuff manufactured in a factory by a woman who sleeps on concrete. Preference donating to a charity that prevents deforestation instead of consuming a product that fells ancient trees. Preference liberating yourself and others from material possessions over succumbing to further entrapment in a hyper materialistic society. We know we can do this, the only person stopping us from trying is ourselves.
“Our lives are mere flashes of light in an infinitely empty universe. In 12 years of education the most important lesson I have learned is that what we see as “normal” living is truly a travesty of our potential. In a society so governed by superficiality, appearances, and petty economics, dreams are more real than anything anything in the “real world”. Refuse normalcy. Beauty is everywhere, love is endless, and joy bleeds from our everyday existence. Embrace it. I love all of you, all my friends, family, and community. I am ceaselessly grateful from the bottom of my heart for everyone. The only thing I can ask of you is to stay free of materialism. Remember that every day contains a universe of potential; exhaust it. Live and love so immensely that when death comes there is nothing left for him to take. Wealth is love, music, sports, learning, family and freedom. Above all, stay gold.” ― Dominic Owen Mallary
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