November 25, 2009

Buy Nothing Day... Week... Month

Some people think that we can shop our way out of the ecological corner we have jammed ourselves into. I am not one of them. Therefore, groups that are helping curb consumption get my attention. Adbusters is one such group.

Based out of Vancouver, B.C., Canada, Adbusters is a "global network of culture jammers and creatives working to change the way information flows, the way corporations wield power, and the way meaning is produced in our society." Through their website, magazine, and organized activism, Adbusters questions, investigates, and reports on existing power structures and the way we do things on our shopping mad planet.

For a couple of decades they have been promoting Buy Nothing Day, a day when we are asked to question our purchasing decisions by making a conscious effort to spend no money. That is not as easy as it may sound. For 2009 the Buy Nothing Day organizers are proposing the following:
This November 27 (November 28 in Europe and overseas), we’re calling for a Wildcat General Strike. We’re asking tens of millions of people around the world to bring the capitalist consumption machine to a grinding – if only momentary – halt.
We want you to not only stop buying for 24 hours, but to shut off your lights, televisions and other nonessential appliances. We want you to park your car, turn off your phones and log off of your computer for the day.
We’re calling for a Ramadan-like fast. From sunrise to sunset we’ll abstain en masse, not only from holiday shopping, but from all the temptations of our five-planet lifestyles.
They are definitely banging that Ramadan drum hard, and like the drum, it is a wake up call. What might a Buy Nothing Day look like? A bit of activism, perhaps, mixed with:
  • sleeping in
  • focusing on local rather than global
  • taking a walk
  • playing board games/cards/dice
  • getting creative with music and art
  • running and playing (ask a kid - they know how to do this)
  • listening to each other
  • channeling your inner Gandhi
  • flying a kite (after making a kite)
  • going on a cycling adventure
  • testing your emergency preparedness plan
  • sitting under a tree/on the beach/in the park
  • snuggling with someone
  • doing nothing (you could make it a Do Nothing Day)
When we try new things doors of possibility are opened. Anything could happen. Buy Nothing Day could begin to transform us from consumers into something completely new. It could transform us into global citizens where, as American philosopher Thomas Paine said, our country is the world and our religion is to do good.

Give not buying anything a try this Friday. You might like it. You might like it a lot. Who knows - you might be moved to try a Buy Nothing Holiday Season this year. We're here if you need support with the withdrawal symptoms.

November 16, 2009

Natural vs. Artificial Desires And Wealth

In responding to a comment on my last post, found here, I realized that the length of my response was getting a tad unwieldy. I decided to post the comment and my response here in order to share it with a larger audience, and perhaps illicit further comments on this topic. The comment was in response to Evolving Past Narrow Definitions of Wealth:
Why would someone have to not want something to be wealthy? It is a natural drive of human beings to want, to know they can get and achieve. Real wealth is seeing something, knowing you can have it and then freely deciding whether you want it or not. It's the ability to choose. That is freedom, when a person knows they can have, but is free to choose not to have, rather than being forced not to have or thinking there is something to gain from self-denial. I agree that it is unfortunate the our society has evolved into the perception of a person's wealth as their possessions. That is a game that individuals can choose to play or not to play. The way to not be effected by it is to realize one's self worth and develop one's confidence... from there they can freely choose to possess or not to possess.
I thank Shannon for her thought-provoking comment, which represents a "be careful what you wish for" moment for me. Like most in the blogosphere, I enjoy reader comments and want to encourage them. And then you get a comment and it is, "Argghh, this person is" It is challenging work representing. But if you can't pull it off, it is time for a change. Here is my attempt to do this comment justice:

Being forced to do something is not good, you are right. However, some self-denial can be a powerful character builder - it is why we send kids to rustic summer camps. It is why we feel good when we can go a day without spending money. One can get carried away, however. Self-flagellation, for example (literally or figuratively).

I know from personal experience that the more I choose to unburden myself from things and endless entertainment, the healthier I feel. With fewer distractions I am more able to cultivate the conditions that add to my inner wealth. Thomas Aquinas made a distinction between natural and artificial wealth.

Natural wealth results from the fulfillment of natural desires. Such desires are common to all of humanity: the desire for food, shelter, love, community, freedom, etc. Fulfilling these adds to our sense of contentment. Not fulfilling such desires has a detrimental impact. We need natural wealth.

Aquinas said, "...artificial wealth is that which is not a direct help to nature, as money, but is invented by the art of man, for the convenience of exchange, and as a measure of things salable." The desire for artificial wealth is a result of cultural conditioning. Such desires vary from person to person, and culture to culture. Not meeting them will not harm you, and yet it is possible that meeting them may yield harm to yourself, those around you, and the planet.

Presently we have a preoccupation with our infinite artificial desires, the attainment of which defines our wealth, as well as our place, and perceived value in society. We can meet all of humanities natural desires, but not its artificial ones. As Gandhi said, "There is enough to meet every one's need, but not every one's greed." We can not all possess everything, but we can all feel good about ourselves as we boldly and freely explore the magic of life. Such natural wealth is freely exchanged, and all benefit.

Attaining natural wealth leads us to experience enduring personal health and well-being. We all desire love, security, and adequate food, shelter, and clothing. It is also natural to desire a sense of self-worth and belonging, as well as a feeling of achievement. When we reduce our desires for fleeting artificial wealth we can concentrate on attaining the enduring natural type Aquinas speaks of. He also warns that even natural wealth is simply a means to an end.

November 15, 2009

Evolving Past Narrow Definitions of Wealth

We usually define wealth by how much money a person has, or by what possessions they own. William Henry Channing (1810-1884), American clergyman, writer, philosopher, and early supporter of the socialist movement, described his alternative view of wealth in "Symphony":

To live content with small means;
to seek elegance rather than luxury,
and refinement rather than fashion;
to be worthy, not respectable,
and wealthy, not rich;
to listen to stars and birds, babes
and sages, with open heart;
to study hard;
to think quietly, act frankly,
talk gently, await occasions,
hurry never;
in a word, to let the spiritual,
unbidden and unconscious,
grow up through the common--
this is my symphony.

This affirms my belief that wealth is not what you have and what you can get, rather it is what you can live without. Real freedom lies not in desiring things and experiences, and having the riches to get them. Rather, it is in not desiring them in the first place.

Real wealth is what each of us carries inside. It is obscured by desiring things in the material world that only provide temporary, hollow relief to our ongoing inner struggle. Contentment brings peace and a calm, unhurried state; a secure feeling of having enough. Since consumerism is based on cultivating unending need and desire, contentment provides a vaccination against it.

Those who experience contentment, balance, and inner peace have true wealth.

Our money, stuff, and pace of life are preventing us from realizing this wealth. But we can sacrifice our negative habits and addictions to the forces of evolution that are constantly urging us to grow beyond our current incarnation. We can give up the distractions in our lives. We don't need them.

There is poverty in desire and riches. We are waking up to the wealth of contentment and enough, and we are evolving together. W. H. Channing said,
"The highest products of human achievement, such as language, law, civilization, religion, and ethical development, are the results of social growth, and not of individual attainment."
Real wealth accumulation, like evolution, is a cooperative activity; we are all on the same team.

November 13, 2009

The Fear And Panic of Not Having Enough

Look out folks, Extreme Shopping Season (E.S.S.) is about to begin. Black Friday refers to the first Friday after Thanksgiving, and marks the beginning of the retail Christmas season. The term also has origins in that many businesses will begin to turn a profit around this time, and thus are in the black. With all the advertising pumping us up, it is hard not to feel excited. Or is that fear and panic I feel?

Retailers use this time of year to launch major sales, often using deep discounts to lure in shoppers with money to burn, or at least credit cards to melt. Stores often open early, and encourage consumers to line up hours before to build anticipation (fear and panic). Frequently, people are hurt. Occasionally, people are smothered in a chaotic stuffalanche of consumers, shopping lists, and merchandise.

Last year during the E.S.S. event there were both injuries and deaths at retail centers as a result of frantic shoppers lusting for cheaper things. A WallMart greeter in New York was crushed to death when a mob of shoppers broke through the glass doors before the store's scheduled opening at 5:00 am. A pregnant woman in the same incident was injured. Many more minor injuries occur every year while shoppers struggle over rapidly diminishing stacks of popular toys or gadgets of the moment.

Consumer psychologist, Professor Joe Priester of the University of Southern California, commenting on the situation said, "I think it ties into a sort of fear and panic of not having enough."

Enough what? And when do we have enough of whatever it is? When can we stop?

Most of the shopping done during the next few months will be for things no one needs. Things that will break down on cue thanks to planned obsolescence. Things that will generate enormous waste. Things that will create social and environmental harm. But, the corporate world has convinced us that their products will soothe our basic feelings of fear and panic of not having enough, and please don't think about the consequences. Cash or credit?

To help increase your security further, advertisers have infiltrated your favorite social networking sites. They want to make sure you have enough of whatever they sell.

Dan de Grandpre, editor-in-chief of, said retailers are smart to use social networking sites because shoppers probably will stick around as followers of the company even after the sale.

"Twitter and Facebook are now major ways to disseminate information," Grandpre said.

One in five shoppers plans to use the sites in their holiday shopping this season, according to Deloitte Research.

And the fun won't end Nov. 27, traditionally seen as the day that the holiday shopping season launches.

After that, an iPhone application from that now tracks Black Friday deals, for instance, will show sales for the following Monday, now known as Cyber Monday because it's the first weekday after the Thanksgiving weekend and many consumers shop from their desks that day.

I guess I will have to finally give in and join Facebook so I can follow some companies, get in on the fun, and save money on their distractions, and distractions from distraction. On the other hand, with recent economic events perhaps now is a good time to re-evaluate the whole consume-or-die way of life that has pushed us to the brink and made 1% of our population disgustingly rich, while over 1 billion of our human family goes to bed hungry every night.

I look forward to "Buy Nothing Day" on November 27, 2009, although here at Not Buying Anything we try to make every day a buy nothing day. I am prepared to miss the "fun" of fear and panic. I am not afraid. I have enough.

November 7, 2009

A Consumaholic 12 Step Program

What is the most difficult addiction to kick? Some say heroin. Cigarette smokers will tell you nicotine is the hardest to beat. Will our consumaholic tendencies be more difficult to recover from than both of these? 

Our sickness is leading to obesity, cancer, and depression. The planet is the enabler and it, too, is suffering. We need help, and quick. T

he situation requires a speedy shift in mass behaviour. We need to kick the habit. 

We all consume in order to survive. Over the past few decades we have become addicted to over- consuming. We make our purchases not to survive, but to satisfy other less visible, less rational needs. 

 We need a program to get us back on the healthful path of sustainability, limits, and contentment. If someone is addicted to a drug you don't tell them they are harming themselves and their family so, "JUST QUIT!" 

The problem is bigger than that, and 12 step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous reflect this fact. 

An addiction-afflicted individual may require a program and a supportive community to assist in recovery. 

Along this vein, I adapted a 12 step program to see how it might apply to our addiction to over-consumption.

A 12 Step Program for Consumaholism
  • Step 1 - Admit we are powerless over our addiction to consumption - that our lives have become unmanageable
  • Step 2 - Believe that Nature, a power greater than ourselves, can restore us to sanity
  • Step 3 - Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the Earth as we understand the Earth
  • Step 4 - Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves, and our stuff
  • Step 5 - Admit to the Earth, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
  • Step 6 - Be entirely ready to have Nature remove all these defects of character
  • Step 7 - Humbly asked Nature to remove our shortcomings
  • Step 8 - Make a list of all persons, other life forms and natural systems we have harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all
  • Step 9 - Make direct amends to such people, life forms and natural systems wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
  • Step 10 - Continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong promptly admit it
  • Step 11 - Seek through thought and meditation to improve our conscious contact with the Earth as we understand the Earth, asking only for knowledge of Nature's will for us and the power to carry that out
  • Step 12 - Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we carry this message to other consumaholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs

We have been mass mainlining consumerism for several decades, but we can, and will get better. I am hopeful that we will recover from our addiction to things, and the work that supports the continuance of our disease. I look forward to the coming cultural shifts that will sustain our recovery and return to healthful, balanced relationships with our planet and each other.

November 4, 2009

Low Carbon Travel: Slower, Not As Far, Less Often

It seems like all the good stuff is somewhere else. It makes a guy want to pack a bag, fire up the tricycle and hit the open road. On the other hand, what is up with this obsession with anywhere other than where we are at? The exotic is always advertised as someplace else, and there are plenty of businesses ready to whisk you there for an extremely low price (plus taxes, fees, and additional levies). Is all this travel to learn about other cultures and make the world a better place, or is it just to help us keep boredom at bay and make ourselves feel 'successful'? Life changing events, or distracting ego strokage?

Regardless of why we do it, there is an environmental cost to all this moving from here to there with near-instant efficiency. In addition to climate change, we are at, or close to, peak oil meaning the end of cheap energy. Remember how you felt filling up at the pumps when crude was at $147/barrel? How attractive was the cross-country voyage in the RV then? We are destined to see those days again.
It will be a huge challenge for the world to adapt to such rapidly declining fuel supplies. So from a probabilistic standpoint, there is no arguing with the actual oil production statistics, they show that it's happening -- it's real and it's happening now.
Low carbon travel is a reality that we currently face. Get ready for the slow road to somewhere close, serviced of course by slow food restaurants.
Given that fuel efficiency decreases markedly with higher speeds, an enforced 60mph speed limit on motorways could save around 1.9 MtC a year. Even enforcement of current limits could achieve significant reductions in emissions. In France, in 2004, strict enforcement on main motorways reduced CO2 emissions by 19% as well as cutting crashes by 30%.
We will either find alternative energy sources, dramatically improve the efficiency of our modes of transportation, or do without. Since we are not getting very far finding viable energy alternatives any time soon, and our vehicles are still only about as efficient as Henry Ford's Model T, it's looking more and more like we will be doing without.

For the past five years I have been limiting my travels to local areas that I can access by walking, riding, or paddling my canoe. It gives me great pleasure to execute a local carbon-free adventure. I live in a rural area known for its scenery, but I can honestly say that I have never lived in a place that did not have its own gifts.

When I lived in the city parks provided much-needed breaks from the built environment surrounding me. Even in cities nature finds a way. Office towers in many cities across North America host peregrine falcons. In many cities one could bike downtown to view one of the fastest creatures on earth hunting in the concrete corridors. Empty lots and fields are reclaimed by pioneering species attracting wildlife to seek shelter in them. Many cities have developed areas that are beautiful in their own right. Chances are there are tourists from afar checking your city out. Why not be a tourist in your own town?

Phillip Croft, a west coast naturalist, highlights the joys of his own West Vancouver neighbourhood in his "Nature Diary Of A Quiet Pedestrian". This amazing book chronicles Croft's 25 year ritual of a daily walk from his home, through a wooded park, and to the beach. He takes the reader through the seasons with wit, keen observations, and his own watercolour illustrations. It is a wonderful example of someone recognizing the exotic in his own back yard.

Due to a variety of ailments globalism is crashing, and it is taking speedy global travel with it. Flying aluminium sausages are out, 6 month trips around the Horn of Africa on a creaky sailing ship are in. Road trips in a personal internal combustion vehicle are out, road trips on your bike are in.

Travel to 'exotic' foreign lands, or even the next province or state, is changing, and for good reasons. People are traveling slower, not as far, and less often. Local is the way of the future, and eventually we will discover that what we are looking for can be found wherever we are. Learning about ourselves, our neighbours, and our own locality may be the biggest, most beneficial low carbon trip of them all.