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Your Earth - November 26, 2004

By Suzanne Elston

Last year, Canadians spent a whopping $16 billion on Christmas gifts alone. That doesn't include all that holly to deck the halls, Christmas trees, decorations and food, glorious food! Before we get sucked into buying stuff for the sake of buying stuff, surely there's a better way, a saner way, a less costly way to let those we love, know that we love them.

We could of course, start by simply telling them. Or we could show them. For me, that could be something as simple as somebody bringing me a cup of tea in bed before my crazy day begins. At the end of the day, somebody else worrying about what's for dinner, and then cooking it would be absolute heaven. For my husband, how about a chauffeur driven ride to work where he could actually not worry about playing slot cars with all the other stupid commuters and instead spend a leisurely hour reading the newspaper or even catching a nap? I'm quite sure that our 10 year-old daughter Sarah would enjoy some completely undivided Mommy-time or Daddy-time. For our soldier son Matthew, a large pan of homemade lasagna is about the best way that I know how to say, "I love you." For Peter, a trip to his favourite Japanese restaurant followed by some intelligent and uninterrupted conversation would do the trick. Jessie the dog is easy. One full hour of belly rubs would put her in doggy heaven.

We all know this stuff. And yet we still get sucked into the desire to do more, to buy more. Clearly the $446 billion that is spent on advertising each year is having an effect. But aside from the obvious credit card debt at the end of the season, we need to understand that there is a much bigger price to pay for our rampant consumerism. According to The Worldwatch Institute, Canada and the United States make up 5.2 percent of the world's population, and yet our portion of private consumption expenditures is 31.5 percent, or more than six times what could be considered our fair share, if fairness had anything to do with it.

What's even more perverse is what we're spending our money on. Worldwatch reports that while women on this planet fork out an estimated $ 18 billion on makeup, only $ 12 billion is spent annually on reproductive health for women. Clearly, we're not very bright, but maybe that's because while we spend $ 15 billion on perfume annually, universal literacy only gets $ 5 billion of the monetary pot. And we're not just pampering ourselves. Americans and Europeans collectively spend $ 17 billion annually on pet food, a mere $ 2 billion shy of the estimated $ 19 billion it would take to end world hunger. Or we could take the $ 14 billion currently spent on ocean cruises and provide clean drinking water for all, and still have $ 4 billion left over for a really good party. When you consider that this would quench the thirst of the estimated 1.5 billion people who don't have access to clean drinking water, the marketing slogan, "that's when you realize this is more than just another cruise" takes on a whole new meaning.

I think it's time we shifted our priorities. To help in this educational process, Adbusters brings us "Buy Nothing Day", celebrated in Canada on Friday, November 26th, as an opportunity for consumers to stop consuming and broaden our humanity instead. Operating under the mantra, "The more you consume, the less you live", BND organizers hope to provide time for all of us to actually think before we buy. According to the Adbusters website, "We pause. We make a small choice not to shop. We shrink our footprint and gain some calm. Together we say to Exxon, Nike, Coke and the rest: enough is enough. And we help build this movement to rethink our unsustainable course."

Now if somebody would just make me a cup of tea.

Websites of the week;

  • The Worldwatch Institute: Global consumption patterns and how they're affecting the planet.
    "State of the World 2004: Consumption by the Numbers"
  • Adbusters:
  • For a list of 101 Things you can do other than shop on Buy Nothing Day: Buy Nothing Day UK site

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