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Posts Tagged ‘consumerism’

Resumed green watching. Not easy for an overworked blogger like me. Green awareness has fallen at the bottom of my list. At the same time, I am so busy working, that I have little time to consume energy, other than the electricity to power my laptop. No driving, minimal grocery shopping, making do with whatever is in the fridge, and hardly any cooking, have translated into minimal energy use. Of course, it helps that I work from home, and that I have been biking everywhere.

The lesson. I do not recommend everyone works as much as I do. But there is something to be said for getting lost into one’s work or passion. A state of flow, such as I have experienced lately, does not leave room for consumerism.

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Third day of green watching. Lots to observe. I will focus on the dryer bit.

If I was a good green girl, I would unplug our dryer, as suggested by hubby and Green Guru, Prad. And I would quit machine drying, cold turkey. When Prad raised the possibility, last week, I screamed. Absolutely no way, was I going to spend the time, pinning ten – pairs? what was I thinking? it’s underwear, not socks, girl!- underwear, ten shirts, to the freaking line. I’m ok with big items like sheets and large towels. But the small stuff? forget it!

I may be working my way out of conspicuous consumption, but convenience consumption? not any time soon . . .

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For several weeks, the Old Navy bag sat on the hallway table. I had promised Charlotte, I would return her shoes. The prospect of going to a store did not particularly excite me. But it had to be done. Today, I finally went, promising myself it would be quick.

Along the way, a new state of mind overtook me, that turned this simple errand into a long shopping expedition. My summer tops were becoming ragged, and I could use some new ones after all. Came out of Old Navy with a dress and a top. All revved up, I set out to drive home. Could not help but notice the Target sign on my left. In a split second, decided to make a U-turn, and check out what used to be my favorite store. There was no stopping me. Made my way fast through an impressive assortment of cheap, ugly rags, all made in China, and still stiff from various dyes, of doubtful provenance. Until I hit the Converse section. I remembered seeing an ad on TV a few months ago:

Prad called. Wanted to know where I was. I had promised a beet salad with feta cheese for lunch. That would have to wait I told him. Too busy trying out stuff from the Converse company. You can’t be disturbing a woman in the midst of a shopping spree. Three pairs of shoes, and a dress, and a pair of jeans. I had done well. I was on my way to becoming a Star, all for only $163.75. 

I thought I had left my Target addiction behind. Today’s experience proved otherwise. Once an addict, always an addict. The hardest part is giving up an addiction, that keeps being encouraged by our consumerist culture

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Yesterday came my monthly credit card bill, in the mail. I know I should switch to online billing, but the power of habits has been stronger than my green conscience. That’s besides the point anyway. No, instead I want to share my surprise when I opened the dreaded envelope. If you are like most Americans, you will know what I mean. What was the four digit number in the ‘Amount to be paid‘ box? Was it a one, or a two, or a three, . . . I knew I had been good, had not been out to shop like I used to. Still the old fear was there, and with it the prospect of maybe having to transfer funds from my savings account into checking. Don’t you hate that feeling? Makes you wonder who is in charge?

The good news is, I got rewarded for my good behavior. With a bill, half of the usual amount. And the satisfaction of feeling in control, again.

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Earth Day is approaching, and with it, waves of unease in the blogosphere. Echoing one of my earlier posts, ‘Green Festival or Celebration of Green Consumption?‘, an article in Ad Age this morning, raises the question of ‘Is Earth Day the New Christmas?‘.

Consumerism pervades our entire culture, we know that. And Earth Day is not exception. In the absence, still, of strict FTC guidelines, marketers are going to go wild with greenwashing on April 22nd. Newsweek, Target, Banana Republic, Macy’s, Toys’R’Us, Sweet Leaf Tea, Fairmont Hotels, Barbie dolls, Wal-Mart, Clorox, are amongst some of the companies that will ‘celebrate’ green, according to the Ad Age article.

I say, we go back to the original spirit of Earth Day, and we use the day as another ‘no shopping day‘ instead. Will you join me?

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A trip to the neighbors across the street is almost always a culture shock. A peak into the reality of American culture and its excesses. This time, was Russell’s one year birthday party. You could tell from the street, by the balloons and the SUV’s parked in front. To get to it, we had to make our way through the house, and all the plastic toys, strewn all over the floor. I did not remember children needing so many things to play with. More was in the wing. It was impossible to ignore the mountain of presents waiting in the corner of the living room. We found the crowd, outside, celebrating, with enough food to feed an entire block, and disposable plates and plastic cups, of course. Kids and adults kept coming in and out of the obligatory bounce house. I asked Prad what kept the thing inflated. He assured me it only took minimal energy. Plus everybody seemed to enjoy the jumping so much. Little Russell, oblivious to the occasion and a big smile on his face, was cruising around, playing with a plastic straw and picking at the grass. Life seemed so easy, and happy, and abundant. I should have been rejoicing.

Bounce House

Instead I felt unease. Displayed in front of me, was a graphic manifestation of unconsciousness, that did not sit well with my green conscience. Prad accused me of being a party spoiler. ‘You are going overboard now. You can’t stop people. They are celebrating the happy event with their community.’ I could not disagree with the community part. It was the ‘how’ that bothered me. Before the dawn of plastic, what did people do? I asked. Wasn’t the party for Russell anyway? The contrast between Russell’s happiness with so little, and the amount of stuff that seemed necessary for everybody else to have a good time, seemed so obvious to me.

Last week, Andrew Revkin asked the DotEarth readers to ‘Imagine Everyone Was Equal In Emissions‘. What would it mean, knowing that currently the average American is producing about fifteen times as much as a person from India or Africa? It means Russell’s parents would have to live a very different life. No brand new toys, or at least not so many. No SUV. No flat screen TV running while nobody is watching. No disposable plates. Less food. Less meat. It means adopting Kyle’s ‘One Tonne Carbon Lifestyle‘, recognizing that there are indeed limits to what we can do and consume. And that such a change is not the end of the world, but instead the beginning of a new, more conscious way of living.

Twice a week now, I commute to San Francisco for a consulting assignment. Instead of driving, I take the train. Altogether, I get in my one hour of exercise, walking to and from the train station, and two hours of work in the train. Carbon emissions: minimal. Personal efficiency: maximal. This is what Kyle’s One Tonne Carbon Lifestyle is about. Can you think of one way that you can change your life that is all benefit to you, and to your environment?

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EcoMoms have made it to the front page of the New York Times. This is an impressive group of green moms, 9,000 altogether, and growing strong. A group that is representative of a very active subculture in Northern California where I live. These women are on a mission and nobody can resist them, not even their husbands or children. They fill Whole Foods‘ parking lot with their Priuses, and are not shy about voicing their newly found green convictions all over the blogosphere, as in here, and here, and here.

Reading the article, one would be tempted to think that all is well on the mommy’s front, environmentally speaking. Until reality steps in. This morning, a friendly visit to my four year old neighbor’s house turned into an anthropological tour of American consumerism at its worst. Little Rachel wanted me to blow bubbles with her, and took me to her backyard. There, sitting in the middle of her parents’ picnic table, a big plastic thing dared me with its massive plastic construction. The Iplay Outdoor Bubble Machine from Target, ‘has a large capacity bubble mix tank for high volume bubble production’ and has a five star ‘guest rating’. It can be yours for $24.99.

Are EcoMoms Taking Over?

The Iplay Outdoor Bubble Machine, unfortunately, is more representative of the reality of American moms today, than the EcoMom Alliance.

I only need to look at myself to understand why. As a mom, I have found it incredibly hard to resist the temptation of materialism, and I have documented my struggles often in this blog, as in here, and here, and here, and here. This being said, women do represent a positive force for the climate fight, as supported by all the latest research.

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Just a moment. I grabbed it, quick, before it slipped away. Halfway between the kitchen and my office. Empty space. Vertigo. I could go shopping, get some action in. Quick remedy for transient un-ease. No. It doesn’t work any more. A vision of sisters moving amidst racks of clothes. And my heart sinks. The absence of substance is not that bad. After all.
Do you have such moments?

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My good friend Christine has been looking for a present, for me. She was just at Anthropologie, my favorite store, but could not find anything. That’s fine, I tell her, I do not need, do not want anything. The urge has died. My wavering green conscience from a few months ago has grown strong now, and with it, the moral resolve to no longer participate in the further demise of our planet, whenever I can. I find this evolution of mine absolutely fascinating, and worth examining.

It was not that long ago, that I was a shopaholic. Revisiting my blog entries from last year, I wonder who is that person?:

April 23

Charlotte asked me to spend the day with her in San Francisco. She wants to see the Vivienne Westwood exhibit at the De Young, and then go shopping to H&M, with lunch in between. How could I possibly refuse? a day with my dear daughter all to myself. Plus, H&M is one of my favorite stores anyway. Once in the store, I am seized with a frenetic urge I know all too well. Gone my resolutions to no longer consume, my determination to boycot slave labor. Nothing is left, except guilt, that keeps nagging at me whenever I grab yet another dress, another cute top, another deal too good to pass up. The whole experience is a mixed bag of excitement, and disappointment. I am disappointed with myself for not being stronger, for giving in, once again. The spectacle of my other fellow shoppers, all shopping like mad, just like me, transport me for a minute in a place I would rather ignore. The earth has become dark, and a huge landfill with mountains of discarded clothes, that leave no more room for us to be and breathe. Charlotte calls me, she has found a white dress she wants me to look at. I push the fleeting image of doom into the recesses of my thinking brain. Charlotte and I are on a mission and nothing will stop us.

July3

The paper is filled with July 4th coupons. Will I go to Macy’s to take advantage of their incredible sales? The sight of my closet, overflowing with clothes should be enough of an answer. I really do not need anything. That’s besides the point, however. I, and most of the other women I know, do not shop because we need clothes. Shopping is just something to do when one is bored, or feeling a little down. It is called retail therapy.

August 3

I am a Target addict. It only took reading one small blurb in Jane magazine, about the upcoming release of Dominique Cohen for Target jewelry collection, to send me scouring through the Target website. I could feel the rush of anticipation, and while I was at it, I did a run through of the entire site, looking for other designer items at Target prices. Handbags, shoes, clothes, other jewelry, I did not miss a thing. How ironic, after I wrote this glorious post yesterday about wanting to become a buddhist! I started feeling guilty. Quickly, my mind fabricated an elaborate rationale for why I should be so obsessed with shopping. It said, you are a woman, you have been biologically programmed to want to adorn yourself, so you can better seduce your mate.

Now, what used to give me transient pleasure has become repulsive. The mere thought of going to Anthropologie and perusing the racks fills me with sadness. About our planet. About all the other women I see shopping still, seemingly oblivious to the consequences of their actions. Maybe they have not seen The Story of Stuff? Maybe their conscience is as mine was, whispering guilt laden words, but not loud enough yet to stop them?

I have to wonder, what is it that spurred this transformation to pure green eco-worrier? Wouldn’t it be nice to discover the secret elixir for green-ness? Noticing, and writing about my daily green sins certainly helped me become more conscious, a lot more conscious. No change in my behavior, that I could notice a first, however. No, it just took time. Time to pay attention, time to take in insights from fellow bloggers, time to watch heavy duty videos like The Story of Stuff. Time to stare at scary facts. Time for it all to sink in, down into my core. It was not one single thing that did it, but rather the combination of all that I let in. And the repetition over and over of the same message, that there is no way out of this predicament, and that it will take no less than all of us making changes in order for the planet to heal.

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It is still too early to tell who won on this Super Tuesday, Obama or Hillary. But one point all CNN commentators agreed upon, was that ‘It’s hard to go against a movement‘. Something is happening in America, and it has a face, Barack Obama.

 

People like me, who had never cared much for politics, have been showing up at political rallies, knocking on doors, and making phone calls. I was wearing an Obama sticker today. I have a sign planted on my lawn. And I don’t miss an opportunity to engage whoever wants to listen. Something is happening in America. And it’s got nothing to do with politics. Or Barack Obama, for that matter. I have a theory.

People have had enough. And they are ready to make their voices heard, and to take action. People are discovering there are more important things than just shopping at the mall, and watching Super Bowl. They are ready to become citizens and to take charge of their destiny. College students, senior citizens, poor people, rich people, blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, women, men, they are coming together to say, this is what we want, and this is what we do not want. We’ve had enough. We want change.

Several times, I have written about the consumer needing to step aside, to make room for the citizen. What we are seeing is the beginning of a citizenry movement. People fighting for higher ideals, and coming together in their communities to make sure the man who ignited their movement is America’s next leader. This is good news for the climate fight. The ingredients going into this extraordinary movement, are the same ones needed to win the climate fight: citizenry, community, activism, social conscience, and political will.

I am feeling hope. Are you?

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