This Thursday many families in the U.S. will observe the Thanksgiving holiday. Some will push their plates away after a celebratory feast, get up from the table and head out the door to wreck the planet. Most of them won’t be aware of the dire consequences of their shopping sprees.
Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year. The frenzy of holiday shoppers chasing after bargains dominates the news broadcasts. In recent years it has become extra newsworthy as shoppers have been shot or trampled to death. The sheer absurdity is captured brilliantly in this video from Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff project:
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, when we cease to be human beings and become consumers:
The real news story is how our system has come to depend on hordes of shoppers purchasing truckloads of products they don’t really need. Retailers’ very survival depends on the excess of holiday shopping. Reports of total retail dollars are watched closely all season. Our system needs consumers buying a lot of unneeded stuff, to keep the retailers in business, product manufacturing going, mines and chemical plants operating, refineries refining, employees working and tax revenues flowing. Of course if the employees aren’t working, then they aren’t shopping…and the whole thing breaks down.
The absurdity of our drive to accumulate “stuff:”
When you step back and examine it from an objective distance, it is absurd. And suicidal. We are stuck in a vicious circle. We have to keep it going in order to have a functioning economy. But keeping it going guarantees we will completely devour the Earth. We have to find a better way.
Yet, in many ways it appears we are making the opposite of progress. This year retail behemoths like Wal-Mart and Target will blacken the Thanksgiving holiday as they fire the starters pistols on Black Friday sales long before Thursday is over. Not to be outdone, Australian retailers have organized Click Frenzy, an online shopping event that began November 20. All are hoping for a crush of shoppers. The news media will be watching and cheering them along. Few will appreciate the tragedy that is unfolding.
The news media aren’t just reporting this news; they are reinforcing it. When reporting on holiday retail madness they don’t seek an alternative view the way they do on many issues. There is no pro and con in their reports, because they don’t know there is a con to holiday shopping. They are blissfully unaware of the unsustainability of current levels of consumption. They are not schooled in limits to growth. And they don’t even know about projects like Adbusters’ Buy Nothing Day or Annie Leonard’s Buy Nothing/Do Something pledge.
Shame on them. They should know. There is no excuse.
What to do? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Shame the media into full reporting. If they are not ashamed by now, then we should help that along. Call journalists and news organizations out for gross negligence, for failure to report the full story. In the process, point them to resources like these so perhaps they will get it right before the rush of the season is over:
2. Enlighten your own family and friends. Take Annie’s pledge not to shop on Black Friday; instead doing something that actually has meaning. Brag about this on your facebook wall and in your tweets.
Have a series of movie nights. Invite family, neighbors and friends. Watch:
3. Unplug from this ridiculous system that will require your destruction. Your goal is to get out of debt and simplify your own life, so you won’t need a full, fat paycheck to live well. Fat paychecks for 7, 9, or 10 billion people on one Earth are not physically possible. The fat paycheck is fast becoming an artifact of a bygone era. The sooner we figure out how to live without it, the less scorched will be our home, planet Earth.
Don’t worry. This isn’t bad news. Cutting back our earnings and consumption just means less meaningless stuff. It actually leaves more time in our lives for the things that really matter: a walk in the park with your lover, a game of hide and seek with your kids, family gathered at the table playing a game instead of scattering to hit the local mall. Try it, you just might like it!
Dave Gardner is the director of the documentary, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth, which uncovers the cultural forces that keep us pursuing growth in the face of overwhelming evidence we’ve outgrown the planet.
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