22 Jan 2013

A thought for the day.

snow day 9

A couple of posts ago I wrote about how planting trees is a different way of thinking about time. The lovely Gina added this comment:

'I also heard this today from a colleague: http://scienceblog.com/59168/tree-and-human-health-may-be-linked/. It almost seems like a universe/earthly plea to plant more trees!!'

And this got me thinking about a plea from the earth.  
I guess today I just want to share with you a small thought.  Please don't think I am preaching when you read this, I am indeed sat at my laptop, tucked under a blanket bought from IKEA with my smart phone on the floor next to me.  The picture I have included at the top was taken on camera that no doubt used a ton of resources to make.  I am far, far away from the person I need to be in order to help save the world.  But, I am trying to change and incorporate a sense of future into my current actions.

I found a quote the other day which caught my eye so I hunted down the full passage.  Victor Lebow (a retail analyst) said that: 

Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption (...) The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms. 

The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats- his home, his car, his pattern of food serving, his hobbies.
(...)We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption. 

Okay, sounds bad right?  Well, then try adding this small factoid into the equation; only 1% of the total N. American materials flow ends up in and is still being used within products six months after their sale.  This means that 99% of the materials that are processed, harvested and produced within N. America  are disposed of within six months.  This means, that within a short six months, only 1% of all that effort, energy and produce is still around, not residing in a landfill somewhere (Hawken, Lovins & Lovins), (us Brits are no better by the way, we are catching up fast).

Reading it sounds horrific doesn't it?  And apparently, the only answer is, if we don't want to change our way of living and being that is, if everyone (is to enjoy) a N. American standard of living, then globally this would require three earths (Wackernagel and Rees quoted by Moffatt).  Although as the article quoting this goes on to point out, finding two other planets might be a little tricky!

Finally though, the pièce de résistance is guess, is that 50 years ago, when the US national happiness reportedly was at its peak, the national consumption was only half of what it is today (Pre-cycling website).  We might be seeking our spiritual satisfaction through consumption but it doesn't seem to be working.

Please, in the comments section, I would love to know your thoughts on this, good or bad, let me know what you think.

If you want some further reading try these


  1. I've been trying to think about the things I consume lately--whether it be food or clothing. I really want to downsize the things I own and really live of what I need and simple things that make me happy. Over the years I've accumulated so many trinkets and bags and all this other crap, and lately I've realized that I just don't need it! I'm also making a conscious effort to buy local, handmade, or used items whenever I can in an effort to prolong the life of unwanted things that I may need in my life. Especially after the christmas season, I realized that I would much rather spend time with my loved ones than receive all these gifts that I may want but certainly don't need.

    1. I think it is the accumulation of small things that is hardest to deal with, for me at least. I find I end up attributing strange sentimental value to stuff and crap that clutters up my house but I just can't quite bring myself to get rid of! If you are thinking about the stuff you consume, have you read this book
      It is called obsessive consumption, it is a year of illustrations of everything bought by this one woman. It is pretty scary to see in one place the amount of 'stuff' you can fill your life with on a daily basis and somehow believe it to all be necessary. Although I realise that by recommending it, I may in fact be suggesting you fill your life with more stuff...!

  2. Bonjour from France!
    I've been following your blog for a little while now, but it's the first time I've plucked up the courage to write something!

    Your article really struck a chord with me, probably because it's something I'm thinking about a lot at the moment!

    I finished uni in the summer and finally feel I have the freedom to start choosing the way I want to live. It's exciting but also difficult - I have the impression of an enormous sense of responsibility attached to my decisions and choices! The quote you referred to is so interesting because even though we might agree with what he says, it can be enormously difficult to try and go 'against' the grain, either because it's simply very tempting to keep on consuming or because people around us think we're odd if we try to resist!

    There are loads of great links I'd like to share on this subject - but they're all in French! This blog (and this post in particular) written in English are fantastic though and gave me plenty of food for thought: http://beinghappiness.com/the-great-simplification/

    Fantastic blog anyhow - keep on writing (and keep ploughing onward with those finals too!!)


    1. I am really glad you commented, thank you, the comments on this post have been the best yet, I have loved the contributions. Plus the link to that article is wonderful, I have another house move approaching soon and I hope I can get the point that I face it with only the important things in my life moving with me.

      I think there is a huge amount of responsibility attached to your decisions (no pressure!), even if the decisions don't actually impact on the world in a huge way. If everyone became somewhat more conscientious the likes of this:


      would never be allowed to happen.

  3. I couldn't read this fast enough, and then I had to read it again!

    I definitely agree that this cycle of consumerism that we're in leasds to nothing but more of the same. We're not as happy so we buy stuff that makes us forget for a day or so until we're unhappy again and seek more comfort in more things.

    I also think an interesting aspect of this whole idea is that people feel they DESERVE the best that industry has to offer because they work for it. I am guilty of this, in a big way. I do not enjoy my job and so when I see something that I want (like the new laptop that I just bought with more RAM than I could ever use at one time) I think "well hey, if I can't buy stuff like this then why the heck am I going to a job I hate every day". People never want to do something for nothing and in modern culture, people want their hard work to equal money and stuff and not a sense of accomplishment, contribution, etc.

    1. Yes - that is it! It is the sense of entitlement that is so infuriating. Despite the known impact, people still feel like it doesn't apply to them. That you can read about the ethics of the clothes manufacturers yet still feel like you deserve to shop there.
      But then sometimes you get stuck, I mean what are you meant to do when the computer finally dies? It is sadly not like an 'ethical alternative' always exists, because frankly, most people wouldn't bother.

      Anyway, climbing off my high-horse somewhat, I think you'd like this video:


      Thank you for your comment Renee, you totally hit the nail on the head with that :)

  4. Hi, I'm new to your blog, and when I read this I knew I was right bookmarking your space! Could not agree more with this, and the intelligent comments as well. Consumerism is at the heart of the worlds environmental (and spiritual) problems, but our society's economic system(capitalism) is depending on people consuming. So what are our options? Communism? Or more careful consumerism (ecological, local, fair trade..)? Or something completly different? I wish I knew the answer...

    1. I wish I knew the answer as well. I would love to believe that careful consumerism is possible but I sadly think our innate desire to have more negates that ever actually working.

      But, I got recommended this book recently


      apparently it is by a man, depressed by modern society, who takes his family to live in different communes with the hope of understanding a different way of living to the one we assume to be the norm.
      Perhaps that might give us a clue?!

  5. Dismal data indeed! My thought is we are trying to compensate for some sort of loss of quality in our lives (especially in N.A. where we focus so much on jobs and the economy and not things like family and simplicity). The favorite American method is by increasing the quantity of stuff in our lives (and I can be just as bad at times). It's easy to keep adding stuff because it is concrete and instant, whereas most quality things (e.g. spending more time with family, watching sunsets, etc) are abstract and take time to develop (like a tree!) It all can seem so daunting and impossible when things are bleak (ironically, also abstract). We certainly like our things NOW!

    Of course, as the statistics show, we are only continuing to be dissatisfied. Just a guess (I need to read your referenced article), I'd wager to say that the 6 months is the initial "newness" high and when it wears off we find it is only a cheap substitute for the areas we really need to work out and the item just ends up on the proverbially pile of dissatisfaction with the quality of our lives. It probably doesn't help that items are made to break and be replaced cheaply by industry (Oh, and don't even get me started on the spiderweb of ads!! :)

    Wonderful post and your photos are gorgeous!

  6. I totally agree with this. Though I'm no great achiever in this department, i've been at least trying to make a difference, and at least I'm aware of what I'm doing. I think that's the problem is that society is so disconnected from the reality that they're completely oblivious to the consequences. *end of nutshell rant. Bottom line: Materials =x happiness