Climate change seems like one big, monstrous, global problem with no easy answers. And to some extent, it is. But let’s step back and look at what caused climate change: consumerism– an ever- increasing demand for more and more and more consumer goods, along with the waste incurred in both the production and disposal of all our “stuff.”
I’ll give you a person example of how much more “stuff” we’ve managed to accumulate here in America within one or two generations. My mother, born in 1933, had a mere two skirts and three blouses as a girl. She kept all her possessions in one small wooden box. In contrast, I took three bags of unused and no longer wanted clothes out of my closet and gave them to charity this past Saturday. And this removal of three bags of my clothes barely made a dent in the overall clutter of our house. Within a century, my family has gone from a minimalist lifestyle to a house packed full of items we may or may not even use on a regular basis.
We could call this “upward mobility.” We could call this a “triumph of American capitalism.” Or we could call this a trend towards gluttony, avarice, and waste. I’ll plead guilty to it all.
There are downsides to this robust consumer economy we’ve built up over the last several decades. Not everyone enjoys it, and the disparities of wealth continue to spread apart. And we have littered our world with the detritus of this constant production and disposal of goods we don’t keep and likely don’t need.
The solution? We need to consume less and waste less. We can all take actions in our everyday lives to reduce waste and put our own consumerist tendencies on a diet:
- Buy less stuff. You’re enabling a wasteful economy by continuing to buy stuff you likely don’t need.
- Use less energy. This is not rocket science. Turn off lights you aren’t using. My pet peeve: turn off your car in the school pick-up line. Roll down the window if you need fresh air. Combine errands. Don’t run the heat or air conditioning to excess.
- Just say no to all the plastic bags you’re offered at the store. Take your own re-useable bags.
- Recycle, re-use, or re-purpose stuff after you’re done with it. Donate unused and household goods to charity. Re-use clean paper bags and shopping bags. Compost vegie scraps. This isn’t hard, and you’ll feel better about yourself. I promise.
Are these steps hard? No. But is everyone doing them? No, and I don’t understand why.
Wastefulness is not a virtue, and it’s time we all try a little harder to curb our excesses. It’s up to every one of us, not just as a culture, but in our individual, everyday lives as well.
The Sustainable Home: Practical Projects, Tips and Advice for Maintaining a More Eco-Friendly Household by Christine Liu. (Quarto Publishing Group/White Lion Publishing, just released October 4, 2018). This excellent new book offers a wealth of practical tips on living more sustainably. The author’s discussion of how consumerism has resulted in a plethora of environmental problems is quite good. Tips are well organized by “rooms” of a typical house (living room, kitchen, bath, etc.). Many of these suggestions are obvious, but clearly many people are still living quite wastefully and not heeding them yet. This book would be a terrific resource to share with those not quite on-board with sustainable living. If all of us adopted just a few of these suggestions, we would make a dent in improving our world.
Cynthia Coe served as an Environmental Stewardship Fellow of The Episcopal Church and is the author of three books connecting environmental issues with a life of faith.