Buy Nothing This Year!
Buy Nothing This Year!
By Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice 11/13/02
"The math is simple. In order for one group of people to consume far more goods than they could produce, some other group has to be consuming fewer goods than they produce. A field trip to your local "dollar store" easily drives this point home. "
Americans who follow global news stories know things are looking pretty bleak. During my lifetime, living conditions in the so-called developing world have radically declined. Landlessness, and the resulting plagues of poverty and hunger, is on the rise. Deforestation is turning rain forests into deserts. Poorer nations, drafted as bit players in the global economy, are pockmarked with sweatshops - their air and water awash in toxic wastes. This is all the result of an orgy of consumption that's been sweeping the world's wealthy nations for over three decades.
The math is simple. In order for one group of people to consume far more goods than they could produce, some other group has to be consuming fewer goods than they produce. A field trip to your local "dollar store" easily drives this point home. During a recent visit, I purchased a small somewhat heavy plastic pig with an electronic heart and soul that produces a sickly oink when it detects nearby motion. It cost me one American dollar. It was produced in a Chinese factory by workers, who, in all likelihood, earn about 15 cents or less per hour.
The process of injection molding the pig, even under the best of conditions, produces neurotoxic fumes that Chinese workers, without OSHA certified ventelation equipment, often breath for 12 or more hours per day. After the pig is molded, workers paint it with similarly toxic oil-based paints. Another crew manufactures the electronic innards of the pig. All of these production steps result in the creation of chemical and heavy metal wastes, which are often sloppily disposed of in the communities near the production plants
The "motion pig" is essentially a useless item, purchased by American consumers who give no thought to the social and environmental costs of its production. Even our most exploited worker, earning the Pataki minimum wage of $5.15 per hour, can buy a motion pig after working for only 12 minutes. Before factoring in transpacific and transamerican distribution costs and various markups, to pig probably sold for around 15 cents, or what our exploited Mickey D's worker earns approximately every two minutes.
There is something radically wrong with this equation. The global economy enforces organized theft, by which first world consumers steal labor and resources from third world countries. Put simply, we are the pigs. The 20% of the world's population that constitutes the developed world is consuming approximately 80% of the globe's resources. Americans alone, since 1940, have used up more of the world's resources than all previous generations the world over. Our addiction to conspicuous consumption is turning much of our planet into a living hell. And most of us simply don't care. This year, as we sit on the cusp of an oil war, two thirds of American voters didn't bother to vote. But most of them will be out shopping on November 29th, the Friday after Thanksgiving, and the unofficial opening of the Christmas shopping season.
November 29th is also Buy Nothing Day (celebrated in Europe this year on November 30th). The holiday, initiated in 1993 by the Adbusters Media Foundation, is now celebrated in over 40 countries. Its success is driven by an impromptu coalition of environmental activists, labor organizations, church groups, global democracy proponents and social justice groups.
While Buy Nothing Day is primarily about getting people to think about the impacts of their conspicuous consumption, it's also a holiday celebrating personal liberation. One British Buy Nothing Day activist explained, "you'll feel detoxed from consumerism." That's because for many people, consumerism is an addiction. In the United States, the average household now pays $1,000 per year in interest and fees servicing a credit card debt that averages around $7,000. Most Americans now save no money for the future, yet, on average, create one to one and a half tons of trash per person per year. Municipal governments in the United States pay approximately $25 billion to landfill, incinerate, or otherwise dispose of last year's motion pigs and other assorted pieces of refuse. Our highways are abuzz both with Wal Mart trucks bringing garbage to the market, and municipal waster haulers, taking it to the landfills. New York State alone exports 5.6 million tons of wastes, while neighboring Pennsylvania imports 9.7 million tons.
To pay for all this crap, Americans now work longer hours than our parents did, and longer hours than our counterparts in any other developed country, while saving less money than in any recent generation. We've seen consumption-driven tax revolts, which put more consumption power into the hands of the wealthy, while starving public education, social services and the arts. Consumerism is poisoning our very ethos.
Buy Nothing Day helps us, as individuals, break free from this self-destructive cycle of consumption. And like other holidays, it's often done as a loud rowdy celebration. Last year, Ruckus Society activists at Minnesota's Mall of America unfurled a "boxcar-sized" buy nothing banner. Other activists organized public credit card cut-ups reminiscent of Viet-Nam era draft card burnings. In malls around the country, anti-consumers set up official looking tables, disseminating leaflets suggesting alternatives to holiday spending, such as donating money to charity. They told people to go home and spend time with their families, rather than spending money on them. They encouraged shoppers to show their love for each other by baking cakes or burning CDs - making unique gifts instead of buying mass marketed crap. In each instance, slow-witted security guards eventually caught on and evicted the activists, but not until they made their points.
Every year, the Adbusters foundation attempts to buy advertising time on ABC, NBC and CBS, to encourage people to stay away from the malls on Buy Nothing Day. And every year the censors at the three networks refuse to sell airtime to air the anti-consumerist messages. Buy Nothing Day, however, continues to grow.
This year, Hyun Min Kwon is celebrating Buy Nothing Day in Seoul, Korea by launching a new anti-consumerist zine. High school students in Berkeley, California will be rebelling against corporate engineered "cool" by ditching their name brand clothing. Activists in Mexico plan to spray paint anti-consumerist messages on walls and billboards. A group in Nara, Japan, will dress as Santa Clauses and hold a "Zenta Claus meditation" at that city's busiest shopping area. In Boulder, Colorado, a bedding store is shutting down their cash registers for the day and opening up their store space to environmental groups for an information fair. In Fair Haven, New Jersey, "Bar Coded Zombies" are planning to storm the Monmouth Mall. In Front Royal, Virginia, one lone man has pledged to encourage his fellow parishioners to reconsider their consumerism. A university anthropology club in Colorado plans on showing their "non-buying presence" at a local mall. Some San Franciscans are combining Buy Nothing Day with their monthly Critical Mass Bike Ride, loudly buying nothing as they meander throughout downtown. "Whirl Mart" activists everywhere will be snaking through Wal Marts, slowly pushing empty shopping carts single file.
Around the country and around the world, people will be using an endless array of creative means to just say no to irresponsible consumerism on November 29th. The bottom line is that we are consuming the planet to death, stealing finite resources from future generations and transforming them into wastes that our current generation can't adequately dispose of. Shortsighted economists argue that consumerism is good for the economy, but in the long term, conspicuous consumption is poison. The debt that consumers accumulate is good for bankers who will collect payments for decades, but it limits the amount of money consumers will have to buy future services from their neighbors or support community oriented programs and services.
Conspicuous consumption is immoral, irresponsible, selfish and unsustainable. It's the root cause of most of our environmental problems. In America, we shop when we're bored, depressed or just feeling powerlessness. But in the end, compulsive shopping transforms us into more boring, depressed and powerless people. Remember this if you see mall security guards dragging Buy Nothing Day activists away. Don't just dismiss them as a group of crazies before really giving some thought as to who is sick and who is sane. Then, just maybe, you'll take their place and wait for your own turn to dragged off and set free.
For more information on these issues, see Dr. Niman's previous articles, "Patriotic Shopping vs. Buy Nothing Day," and "My Big Blue Dumpster." Both are archived at mediastudy.com/articles. If you need source citations for any of the information presented here, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
TRY FOLLOWING THIS CHECKLIST BEFORE SHOPPING
Do I really need this?
Were the resources used to make it harvested in a sustainable fashion?
Were the workers who produced it paid a living wage?
Were they treated with dignity and respect?
How long will this item last?
Is it reparable?
How often will I use it? Can I borrow or rent one?
Is it recyclable?
How will using it affect my health (i.e. TV, fast food)?
How will using it affect my neighbors' health (i.e. pesticide, jet ski)?
Does it require further consumption (i.e. batteries, fuel)?
Does it have to require further consumption (i.e. can I buy battery-free toys)?
Is it energy efficient?
Am I taking the food out of a hungry person's mouth (i.e. imported crops)?
Am I consuming someone else's scarce resources (i.e. third world wood)?
Is my consumption supporting a political agenda I disagree with (i.e. Wal Mart, Microsoft, Cocaine)?
Am I locking myself into further consumption and payments (i.e. satellite TV)?
Am I fueling global resource wars (i.e. gas guzzling SUVs)?
Am I a bad person?
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