We have a waste problem. To anyone with even a cursory understanding of human consumption patterns, it is frustratingly apparent that we use and dispose of things in the worst way possible. In our mad dash for riches, to cram our lives with possessions to distract and numb ourselves, we have left behind reason and sense.
To have any hope of remedying this metastasizing issue, we must completely overhaul our relationship with things. Why? To give the planet a fighting chance in the war against climate change.
When buying gifts for others or items for ourselves, we ought to be mindful of the manufacturing process and consumerism we are actively enabling. When we shop the biggest brands, our hard-earned money goes directly to supporting the corporations in their ongoing assault of the planet’s natural resources, while lining the bulging pockets of the wealthiest individuals.
As we accumulate unnecessary knick knacks, we fill our homes with useless garbage that doesn’t sustain us but distracts us. Far too frequently, these toys, decorations, novelty mugs, $5 t-shirts, etc. follow a damning path from big box store, to a brief period of glory used for its intended purpose, before their truly nefarious fate is realized. When discarded, these items either add to the endless accumulation within a landfill or they occupy the overflowing shelves of a secondhand shop, destined to curse another’s home. Best case scenario, someone finds true value in this hastily manufactured thing. However, we would be ignorant to believe this happens to every piece of junk that once graced our lives.
Unfortunately, the manufacturing-marketing-buying-accumulating complex operates on far too grand a scale to be remedied by passing off a few possessions here and there to Salvation Army. We need systematic change within several industries to pull this off. More importantly, consumer culture at large must be disrupted. The intent is not to dismantle people’s generosity or hobbies, but to elicit a healthy reconsideration of why we buy what we buy. It’s a worthwhile question to ponder as our environment suffers the consequences of our thoughtlessness. There is simply too much production of disposable and cheap products for a sustainable recycling system to do more than band-aid our waste problem.
The global shift towards urban living has radically changed the norm for billions of humans. While our ancestors subsisted off the land for millennia, either foraging, hunting, cultivating crops, the city lifestyle of services and automated production has severed us from responsibility and knowledge of self-sufficiency.
A longitudinal analysis of British children reported that teenagers raised in the city were twice as likely to experience psychosis as those from rural environments. Factors such as the lack of neighbourhood cohesion, social isolation, pollution, noise, and exposure to higher crime rates are associated with depression, anxiety and mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse. City life is primarily characterized by removal. We are not involved in the production of our own food, limiting our sense of ownership and challenging the very nature of what historically made us human. Of course our food system is dysfunctional, it relies on our ignorance and greed. We have more abundance and indulgence at our fingertips than ever before, but this bounty comes at a great price to ecological stability and our own health.
One could easily argue that all our subsequent technological and information revolutions have done little to serve us. Naturally, our lives on the whole appear to be much richer than our ancestors. Blind nature would suggest that we have succeeded in the Darwinian battle for domination of our habitat. Infant mortality has plummeted in the last few decades, our population has exploded to nearly 8 billion, we have unprecedented access to food, energy, and the ability to cure or combat diseases that could paralyze less sophisticated civilizations. Yet with all these gifts, we concurrently ravage the very planet we depend on in the mindless quest for more.
To make it through the climate crisis that poses one of the greatest known risks to humanity, we need to reassess, redirect and refuse that which does not serve us. As diverse as our interests are across the world, as different as our perspectives may be, the ongoing health of Earth is a genuine call for unification. Rich and poor, right and left, every race, creed and culture – we all suffer from a neglected environment and benefit from a healthy one.
To fix our grand predicament, we need to face the reality of our behaviour. Removal has enabled our apathy, but this sentiment is unsustainable in every sense of the word. The future of our species cannot afford our prolonged ignorance. It is time for governments, businesses, and individuals to hold themselves accountable for their actions. Consumers can question what they buy and which companies they support – fortunately we have the internet to inform us and provide transparency. Businesses should be scrutinized for their practices, while governments are kept in check by the collaboration of concerned citizens who actively strive for a better world that benefits future generations. No longer should it be our priority to consume more, more, more, but to critically think about what kind of world we are leaving for our children. The world is burning, glaciers are melting, and the ocean is brimming with plastic. Is this the legacy we want to create?
Documentaries and Resources for further study:
The True Cost
Broken: “Recycling Sham”