The story of stuff is a story we know all too well. Consumerism is the foundation of a capitalist society. Our society, our relationships with one another, our jobs, the economy and our traditions all encompass the need to make, purchase and have physical things.
However, this constant need to have is in the midst of a philosophical makeover, with many people carving new paths of innovation on the journey. Still, our society has pushed the planet to the limits and we, for the most part, are demonstrating we are nowhere near ready to comprehend what needs to change in order to save our own skin.
Unless you are actively reading and listening to environmentalists, you could easily assume there is nothing wrong. After all, every day appears to be the same. Although we have heard the term global warming, it does not seem to take root as a real threat to some people. There is a dominant and alluring view that it’s going to just go away. Or that we will slowly solve the problem with a quick techno fix, or by buying more “green” washed products – as if we can buy our way out of the problem when buying is the problem.
Our obsession with stuff affects our carbon levels and emissions. When we buy food, gifts, drive our cars, and use “one time use” plastics, we are enhancing our sickness. Before the neoliberal era and the free market mentalities of the Friedmanites, emission growth had actually been slowing. But in the 1980’s with the creation of NAFTA and the WTO, we have seen only increases, from 3.4% a year to an alarming 5.9% in 2010.
Many people have no idea what this means because it’s too hard to comprehend our individual impact, especially within a growing population. So listen to the experts: we need countries, especially developed countries, to cut emissions drastically. Our carbon emissions are now 61% higher than in 1990 when all the while we should have been decreasing gas emitted from the burning of fossil fuels. We are definitely at our tipping point, yet for most people it’s business as usual.
In her book This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein points out that the optimistic scenario (in which warming is more or less stabilized) is at 4 degrees Celsius. She enlightens us further with the fact that “In 2011 the usually staid International Energy Agency (IEA), issued a report projecting that we are on track for a 6 degrees Celsius – 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit – of warming.” The IEA’s chief economist puts it: “Everybody, even the school children, knows that this will have catastrophic implications for all of us.”
So why aren’t we freaking out? Why are we still continuing down this road to disaster? It’s not like it’s been all love and roses either. The WTO and the International Monetary Fund locked countries into debts impossible to overcome and trade laws that inhibit and make necessary changes illegal.
It’s easy to point fingers at countries still running on coal energy like China, but where do you think most of the “stuff” comes from? Naomi is right on when she says: “so while our clothes, electronics and furniture may be made in China, the economic model was primarily made in the U.S.A.” Thus, this is most certainly a global issue that affects all of us. Our stuff connects us to the slavery of the poor, to wars in the Middle East, to genocide in Africa and every act of terror, whether delivered by the U.S military or ISIS. Our consumerism is a major problem; a problem we are not only passing on to our children to deal with but we are further indoctrinating and teaching them the behaviour of wanting stuff.
I see lots of cheaply made stuff – I have kids. Toys that break after a few uses, electronics and ridiculous plastic trinkets – everything that just ends up in a trash heap somewhere. A simple solution could be, instead of buying a physical item, buy an activity, an excursion, a ticket to the theatre or an event. The outcome is not less living – it’s actually better living and living more.
Instead of a culture based on buying and giving physical things, we can buy and give experiences. We can teach our children to value activities like a dance class, a day at the beach, a bike ride, horseback riding lessons and so on. Giving a gift that will enhance our culture is productive in more ways than I can mention.
I have noticed how indoctrinated my kids are already. Even with my attempts, there is still a heightened desire to acquire things and I still battle with the feeling that I am cruel if I don’t give them things. How will they feel next Christmas if inside each box is a description of an activity, a lesson or a trip to the ice cream store? It’s not easy to walk away from these traditions. But, after reading about our present situation and understanding how dire the outcome is, moving off grid and changing the way we live and think is the best solution. I cannot think of a better option for my family.
However, I am a shop owner. I sell things made by local artists, designers and jewellers in Costa Rica. What future does my shop and the artists have if consumption decreases? It would certainly mean systematic changes – from how we operate to the value of the space we rent. But then again, we may value products like I have more. The handmade items, a one of a kind piece of jewellery that has been created with love can offer you more than something you picked up at Target becasue it was only 5.99.
Governments have become vacant entities, lost on arguing about their own policies and not acting in our collective interest. They seem concerned only at the time of elections – but in this race the tortuous most certainly does not win. So it is left to us – the revolution starts within. What happens to our economy if we can’t buy and seek new customers? What changes does that mean for the rest of society? How can we empower ourselves and not just lay in wait?
In the coming cultural uprising, the shift in human consciousness and the evolution of society, we shall dance.
Yes, that’s right – dance is where I am going with all of this because, in a way, it is part of the solution. And it’s not just about dance. It’s all performing arts; sports, events and activities we can consume, creating experiences, education and exercise. We can generate a working economy that is not based on having stuff but on fun activities that contribute to healthy and happy lives and gives us the experiences needed to be a more evolved and functioning civilization – celebrating people, culture and the individual.
In a society where there is lack of enthusiasm for the arts, funding for projects is not even made available. Many are of the opinion that when a person graduates from university with a performing arts degree, this isn’t a real education. You might find it astonishing that 90% of these graduates do not get paid. That’s right – no pay! Many cannot even find free work. So, as a dancer, you can see why I am excited that society must change – giving dance, education and philosophy a more important role in our communities. So I urge you, in a time when we are seeing huge cuts to these important institutions that celebrate arts and education, put your money into the economy that will provide the most positive and exciting future.
Change is good, vive la danse.