Less Goods, More Good

Here in the Bay Area, there is a lot of attention to “green consumerism” or even progressive consumerism: buying organic goods, buying local produce, buying carbon-neutral products and air travel, buying “sweatshop free” clothes, “cruelty-free” cosmetics and “dolphin-safe” tuna.  Buying, buying, buying… But it seems clear that the single biggest thing we could do to help slow global warming and limit our despoiling of the earth and the exploitation of its resources, and so many of its people, is simply this: don’t buy it.  Stop shopping.  Consume less.

There are a number of ways to approach the goal of consuming less, and I want to use this blog, among other things, to comment on some of ways of cutting back on consumption, and brainstorm some outside-the-box approaches to buying less and living more.  It seems inarguable that we are going to have to change our “standard of living,” as that has been defined largely in terms of consumption, but I think this doesn’t have to mean an impoverished, ugly or uncomfortable life in a larger sense – when comfort is not seen as dependent on the size of your SV and plasma TV.  Our motto should be “less goods, more good.”

And there are ways to dial back consumption that have a fairly minimal impact on daily life here in the apotheosis of consumer capitalism – for instance:

Car-sharing – there are now two companies in the Bay Area that offer short-term, low-cost car “sharing” rentals

Tool-lending libraries – as with car-sharing, a way to have access to things you need occasionally, but don’t need to own – in this case, circular saws, sledgehammers and wheelbarrows

File-sharing – obviously controversial, but if you can download that movie or album, it avoids a whole host of environmental ills (shipping, packaging, etc.), not to mention the nasty business of paying.

Goodwill / Urban Ore – don’t throw anything out. Remember that 70’s mantra: reduce, reuse, recycle.  One person’s junk is another one’s jewel.  And this goes both ways: when you need a new shirt, think “used.”

and, of course, the Public Library

In subsequent posts, I want to explore each of these in some detail, as well as less obvious alternatives to consumption as usual.

For some interestings discussions of “green consumerism,” check out the following:

As these and numerous similar articles make clear, albeit often indirectly, to a large extent green consumerism has been just another moment of recuperation, in which progressive – even utopian – desires for a different way of a living are channeled back into the status quo, in this case reinforcing global corporate capitalism.

When our favorite hippie toothpaste maker, Tom’s of Maine, sold out to Colgate-Palmolive, that process of recuperation was given a particularly good illustration, but that was by no means an isolated case. (The language in which Tom and his partner Kate announced this sell-out is telling, and nauseau-inducing.) Of course, Tom’s of Maine was a profit-making consumer goods company prior to the sale, but I imagine many Tom’s users, like me, felt we were still somehow opting for a different way of doing things, to some small extent, when we brushed our teeth with Tom’s instead of Colgate.  Colgate-Palmolive’s acquisition of Tom’s of Maine evaporated that hope and left us as just another market segment – a bitter taste in the mouth instead cinnaminty goodness.

Something else I hope to do in subsequent posts is look in detail at specific moments of recuperation, and also expose various sell-outs like that of Tom’s of Maine to Colgate-Palmolive.

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