Monday October 23rd 2017

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‘Consumption’ Archives

The Siren call

In Greek mythology Sirens would call out from their island to passing sailors with music and song.  Heeding the irresistible calls the seamen would sail to their death as they became shipwrecked on the rocky coast.

The tradition of the Siren is alive and well in our modern world. With each day we are bombarded with the enchanting sounds of fantasy — that our economy can continue to grow forever.  This intoxicating delusion of an infinite world where we expect our every expectation and desire to be fulfilled runs through every facet of our popular culture.  It is broadcast endlessly across our media.  It permeates our value system and is part of our belief system.  It is taught at the highest levels of our education system.  It is espoused as dogma in our political system.

It is the defining fiber that makes up the fabric of our society.

As more and more societies around the world heed the siren call towards capitalism and consumerism humanity veers closer and closer to the metaphorical cliffs and true disaster.  The allure is so strong that, like the sailors of old, we seem oblivious to the clear signs of danger.

  • The climate is reeling out of control and within a lifetime may be unlivable for much of humanity.
  • Other forms of life are disappearing from the planet 1000 times faster than normal
  • Alienation, depression, and other emotional maladies are chronic, and growing more severe in consumer societies
  • The earth is reaching its limit in absorbing the pollution and toxic waste produced by  exponentially growing consumer societies.  The level and number of toxins in our bodies grows with each new day

So, I have to confess that my heart sank when i saw these two headlines in the New York Times Magazine:

In China, Cultivating the Urge to Splurge (November 24, 2010)

Shop, China, Shop (November 30, 2010)

In these stories the writers continue the suicidal mantra — if we are to prosper the world must encourage China to continue to grow and create millions, many, many more millions of people who consume like we do in America.

As soon as I saw the headlines I knew that I would have to write a blog posting on this.  I was heartened to see that even Joe Romm, who normally focuses on climate issues (Blog: Climate Progress), felt compelled to attack this lunacy.

I will close with a copy of his post here:
_______________________________________________________________________

Killed by the NY Times magazine.

November 30, 2010

The larger idea is to build a more sustainable economy, or what Chinese leaders have called a balanced and harmonious society. In that economy, families would not have to save 20 percent of their income in order to pay for schooling and medical care, as many do now. They would instead be able to afford more of the comforts of modern life — better housing, clothing, transportation and communication. In time, China would become the world’s next great consumer society.

Maybe you thought that the word ’sustainable’ was already dead, but really it was only ill — ill-defined by overuse.  But thanks to the NYT magazine and economics columnist David Leonhardt, it has now been officially defined out of existence.

Maybe you thought ’sustainable’ meant something like “capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment.”  How wrong you were.  Apparently, to the Times, ’sustainable’ means being the biggest consumers in the world.  George Orwell would be proud.

Special props to the NYT and Leonhardt for running a piece that uses the words sustainable, sustain, and sustainability six times — without once mentioning global warming or China’s unsustainable contribution to it  — on the day before the big international climate conference in Cancun, a day their op-ed page ran three pieces on global warming, including one explaining the dangers of our unsustainable path (see Farmer in the Times: “Climate change, I believe, may eventually pose an existential threat to my way of life”).

And extra bonus credit to the Times for this head-exploding cover:

Shop china

Yes, the “health of the world economy depends on” China learning to spend “more like Americans.”  As if (see “Is the global economy a Ponzi scheme?“)

The article is a masterpiece of tortured logic and magical thinking.  Here’s the paragraph that follows the one quoted above:

That term may have negative connotations in the United States, particularly after the last decade of debt excess. But the term means something very different for China. A Chinese consumer society would improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people. The benefits of the industrial boom that began in the 1980s would spread more rapidly beyond the country’s eastern coast. The service sector would grow, and the economy would no longer be quite so dependent on smoke-spewing factories.

So the only negative connotation the NYT is aware of for the phrase “world’s next great consumer society” is debt excess.  No treehuggers at the Times magazine.

And somehow the benefits of the industrial boom would spread rapidly beyond the country’s east coast, but smoke-spewing factories wouldn’t?  How exactly are all those mass consumer goods bought by all those new Chinese shopaholics going to be manufactured?  By magic?

Note to NYT:  If you make a bunch of stuff for hundreds of millions of people, you’re gonna have to build a lot of smoke-spewing factories.

Finally, I’m all for improving the lives of hundreds of millions of people — but somehow I imagine it can be done without “cultivating the urge to splurge” of Americans.  Indeed, I am reminded of a piece I wrote two years ago — Chinese Premier: Rich nations should ditch ‘unsustainable’ lifestyles … and stop buying all the crap we make.  I cited an AFP story:

BEIJING (AFP) — Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Friday that rich nations should alter their lifestyles to help tackle global warming, at the start of a two-day meeting on climate change, state media reported.
“The developed countries have a responsibility and an obligation to respond to global climate change by altering their unsustainable way of life,” Wen was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.

Not exactly a view that the NYT felt needed to be part of its piece.

That said, the first thing that popped into my head when I read Wen Jiabao’s admonition was this Onion story: (Note from Sustainable Thoughts:  If you are not familiar with the Onion, this “article” is a spoof/parody)

Chinese Factory Worker Can’t Believe The Shit He Makes For Americans
FENGHUA, CHINA–Chen Hsien, an employee of Fenghua Ningbo Plastic Works Ltd., a plastics factory that manufactures lightweight household items for Western markets, expressed his disbelief Monday over the “sheer amount of shit Americans will buy.”

“Often, when we’re assigned a new order for, say, ’salad shooters,’ I will say to myself, ‘There’s no way that anyone will ever buy these,’ …. One month later, we will receive an order for the same product, but three times the quantity. How can anyone have a need for such useless shit?”

… “I hear that Americans can buy anything they want, and I believe it, judging from the things I’ve made for them,” Chen said….

Among the items that Chen has helped create are plastic-bag dispensers, microwave omelet cookers, glow-in-the-dark page magnifiers, Christmas-themed file baskets, animal-shaped contact-lens cases, and adhesive-backed wall hooks.
“Sometimes, an item the factory produces resembles nothing I’ve ever seen,” Chen said. “One time, we made something that looked like a ladle, but it had holes in its cup and a handle that bent down 90 degrees. The foreman told us that it was a soda-can holder for an automobile. If you are lucky enough to own a car, sit back and enjoy the journey. Save the soda beverage for later.”

… Chen expressed similar confusion over the tens of thousands of pineapple corers, plastic eyeshades, toothpick dispensers, and dog pull-toys that he has helped manufacture.

“Why the demand for so many kitchen gadgets?” Chen said. “I can understand having a good wok, a rice cooker, a tea kettle, a hot plate, some utensils, good china, a teapot with a strainer, and maybe a thermos. But all these extra things–where do the Americans put them? How many times will you use a taco-shell holder? ‘Oh, I really need this silverware-drawer sorter or I will have fits.’ Shut up, stupid American.”

Chen added that many of the items break after only a few uses.

“None are built to last very long,” Chen said. “That is probably so the Americans can return to buy more. Not even the badly translated assembly instructions deter them. If I bought a kitchen item that came with such poor Mandarin instructions, I would return the item immediately.”

May Gao of the Hong Kong-based labor-advocacy group China Labour Bulletin said complaints like Chen’s are common among workers in China’s bustling industrial cities.

“Last week, I took testimony from several young female workers from Shenzhen who said they were locked in a work room for 18 straight hours making inflatable Frisbees,” Gao said. “Finally, the girls joined hands on the factory floor and began to chant, ‘No more insane flying toys for Western pigs!’ They quickly lost their jobs and were ostracized by their families, but the incident was a testament to China’s growing disillusionment with producing needless crap for fat-ass foreigners.”

Continued Gao: “As Chinese manufacturing and foreign investment continue to grow, and more silly novelty products are invented, we can expect to see more of these protests.”

And if the NYT magazine has their way, the Chinese can look forward to making their own crap too!

Walking Lightly (er)

I thought I would share some of the changes and/or choices we (me and my partner) have made to try and reduce our impact on the planet. We are always looking for new ways to reduce the amount of energy that we consume, to reduce the amount of materials that we use and for ways to extend the life of the goods we already have.

Why is this important? Well, if everyone on the planet consumed the way we do in the United States we would need FIVE earths. We have one (for those of you keeping score). We use up materials as if trees, water, and minerals were unlimited. In just 100 years we have wiped out much of the earth’s stocks of natural resources.

In order to avoid catastrophe we must fundamentally change how we live our lives. Few people are prepared for this message. It challenges everything we think we know about life. It challenges and calls into question the very core of our national and personal identities’. Some very heavy emotional and intellectual lifting indeed, but for today, let’s focus on the “easy” stuff.  Let’s focus on reducing energy use, consuming less, and looking at diet.

There are LOT’s of links in this posting.  Take your time and work through them if you can.  Lot’s of good information and ideas to be explored.

Reduce Energy Use

Drive Less: In America 30-40% of all energy use, and climate change inducing carbon emissions, come from the transportation sector.  That is because our society is so dependent on the private automobile.  Do everything you can to drive less.

Car:  We have made a commitment to being, at most, a one-car family. We have a small car which at times is inconvenient and we have considered getting a larger second-hand car for those times when more space is needed.  In the end we decided that if a larger car is needed, we will trade in the first car.  If and when public transportation improves in this country I would love to have no car and just rent a vehicle from time to time.

Location:  When we moved to Washington DC we very consciously chose an apartment that is within walking distance of a metro station.  This allows us to use public transportation to go to work each day and for any excursions into the city (In fact, with my new job, I can actually walk to work – even better!).   Our apartment is within walking distance to two grocery stores (Giant and Whole Foods).  We have a cart that we use to carry our groceries back and forth.  We get some exercise and we don’t use the car.  Love it.
Facilities:  We also specifically chose an apartment complex that has tennis courts and a gym.  Finding tennis courts in this semi-urban area can be difficult and can require driving 5 to 45 minutes to public courts depending on the location and time of day.  I save a tremendous amount of time and fuel by having courts that I can walk to.   We can go weeks at a time without using the car.

Promote Integrated Communities: In many communities across the U.S. we passed zoning laws that separate our schools from our homes and from our work place.  We spend much of our lives cut off from the world as we drive from one errand to the next.  Get involved in your local political scene and get those zoning laws changed to create a move livable environment.  Arlington Virginia did just this and it is thriving. (Read about it here and here.)  If you are looking to move to a new area use this site to find a “walkable” community.

Reduce Home Energy Use: (here is a good list also)

    1. Choose a smaller home:  A smaller space requires less energy to heat and keep cool.
    2. Get an Energy Audit: The best way to find out where you are losing energy (and money).  Focus on the biggest energy hogs in your home (good list here)”
      1. Insulate your home
      2. Get triple pane windows
      3. Get a more efficient Refrigerator (the fridge is a major energy hog)
      4. Get a more efficient water heater
      5. Get low flush toilets
    3. Use Efficient Technology:
      1. Use compact fluorescent bulbs.  They can reduce your energy use by 80%.
      2. Only use appliances with the Energy Star symbol.  Energy Star approved products can use 2 to 10 times less energy than non-approved models!  (Find energy star appliances here)
      3. Use smart power strips that cut off power to appliances when not be used.  Many appliances drain energy even when off (“Energy Vampires”).  Anywhere from 5-10% of all energy use in the U.S. is from these vampires.  Unplug!!
Appliances:  Although our rent includes the cost of electricity and water we do as much as we can to reduce our use of these resources.
  1. All light bulbs are low energy.
  2. We use power strips that cut off the current to appliances when not in use.  We unplug appliances not on power strips.
  3. When buying appliances we make to purchase the most energy efficient model currently available.
  4. Laundry:  We wash all our clothes in cold water.
  5. Dish washer:  If used properly a dish washer can save in water and energy.  We fill the machine to the maximum before each load is started.

Consume Less
Our entire society is set up to promote consumption.  We are bombarded by messages every day that create the “need” to buy, buy, buy.

Reduce the Temptation

Turn off the TV ( research shows that for each extra hour of TV watched, a person spends an extra $220/year).

Stop Mail Order Catalogs

Over the years I ended up on the mailing list of many mail order shopping catalogs (LL Bean, Eddie Bauer, etc).  I rarely needed anything but I would just page through them for the fun of it.  Invariably, from time to time I would find something that caught my eye and I would buy it.  I have stopped all the catalogs and save all that paper and avoid impulse buying.  I don’t miss it.  You can stop catalogs by calling the company directly or by using this free website.

Stop/Reduce Paper use

    1. Stop using paper towels
    2. Use tissues from recycled paper
    3. Use toilet paper from recycled paper
Paper Towels:  I love the convenience of paper towels but cutting down virgin forests for such convenience is too high a price to pay.  We now have a collection of dish towels that do the same job and can just be thrown in the wash.
Paper Napkins:  Same idea.  We have cloth napkins that we wash and reuse.
Toilet Paper:  Only from recycled paper.
Water bottle:  We each have a durable water bottle that we take with us everywhere.  We never need to buy bottled water.  We use a water filter at home.  Watch this fun video on bottled water.
Tailor:  We take clothes when they have small tears or don’t fit so well to the tailor and for $1 to $10 we can extend the life our otherwise perfectly fine clothes.
Paper:  We normally print on both sides of paper.  We reuse all single side printed sheets.  I also save all paper from work (I get a lot of memos, handouts, draft documents, etc. that are printed single sided) and reuse them at home.
E-statements:  I have converted all my financial statements (bank, credit cards, mutual funds, etc) to electronic statements.  It has cut down significantly on the amount of mail I receive.  I used to have binders and binders of all these statements that I never looked at.  Saves me time in filing and saves trees.
Receipts:  I have boxes and boxes of receipts that I never used.  If you buy online or use a credit card then you already have an electronic receipt.  I no longer ask for receipts at the gas station.  When I have choice, I normally decline getting a receipt.

Recycle:  We separate our trash and recycle as much as we can.

Avoid Plastic:  Every piece of plastic ever made still exists.  In the US we buy about 30 Billion plastic water bottles each year!!  Most end up land fills.  Not to mention all that other plastic we consume every day as packing materials for the stuff we buy, Ziploc bags, shopping bags, etc, etc.  Plastic doesn’t go away easily — it can take 500 to 1000 years for plastic to break down.  Nobody knows for sure.  And every day we learn of more risks associated with the chemicals that leach out of these plastic products.  Plastic burned in incinerators emit carcinogenic fumes into the air.  Plastic is evil. Do everything you can to remove plastic from your life.

Plastic shopping bags:  We have a collection of canvas bags that we use for all shopping.  We keep a set in the car.  We have small portable ones that we keep in our backpacks or travel bags.  It took us a while to get in the habit of remembering to take the bags with us but now it is second nature and now we never use plastic bags.

Ziploc bags:  We try and use as little as possible and if we must, we gently wash and reuse to extend their life.  To replace ziploc bags we have purchased small Pyrex containers to protect our food.  Works great.

Reduce exposure to chemicals

Cleaning Products:  We have experimented with a range of “Green” cleaning products.  After trial and error we have managed to find products that get the job done using less toxic chemicals.  We like Method products for:
  1. toilet cleaner
  2. bathroom tile cleaner
  3. floor cleaner
  4. window and glass cleaner
  5. dishwasher soap
  6. dish washing machine soap

Diet
The nature of our diet has a tremendous impact on the planet.  Our industrial food system is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and is unsustainable on many levels.  Watch the great documentary “Food Inc” to learn about how our food system fails us. The American diet is rich in meat, a very inefficient way to feed a growing population.  It takes 2,500 gallons of water to make a one-pound steak in the U.S.!  More than 50% of the entire corn harvested in the U.S. is fed to cows to make beef.  Fast food is also becoming a staple of the American diet with disastrous effects on our personal and planetary health.  Read more on this here.

Eat less Meat:

  1. We eat red meat very rarely and when we do we buy only organic, grass fed beef or grass fed buffalo meat.
  2. We try and have at least a few “meat free” days each week.
  3. We buy eggs that are free-range and organic and endorsed by the Humane Society
  4. We buy organic chicken (free range) and pork
  5. We buy fish according to environmentally friendly list (printable version here) – avoiding sea bass, farmed salmon etc… focusing on tilapia, wild salmon….

Buy Local

We buy as much of our vegetables from local farmers and we go to the farmers market regularly.  We buy organic vegetables and fruits as much as possible.

Well, that is a start.  Drop me a line if you have some other good ideas or examples of steps that you have taken to reduce your footprint.

The longest journey begins with a single step….

Nothing to Wear? Try this Challenge

As i push myself to lead a more sustainable lifestyle I try to buy less stuff.  For example, on the clothing front I try to see how many months I can go without buying any new clothing.  The next phase of the experiment for me is to explore second-hand stores and see how much of my wardrobe that I can buy there.  I am also using a tailor more to extend the life of clothes I currently have.  What percentage of the clothes in our closets do we actually wear?  How much mental energy and time do we spend each day pondering what to wear?  Is this really how we want live our lives?

Below is an interesting article on two clothing related challenges that really promotes mindfulness on this issue. 

Check out this slide show of people who tried the 6 Items challenge.  And the observations and testimonials from the Great American Apparel Diet (no new clothes for a year) are thought provoking.  An example:

By KatherineS

I just found this program through a story that ran in the New York Times– which I think goes well with this program. . I actually started my own “diet” in May (didn’t realize there was a program). I had set out to do 6 months with no new clothes, beauty products, accessories for both me and my 2 year old daughter, but I fell off the wagon after a month when I was on vacation in Hawaii and discovered my bikini top was useless for surfing. I need a support group and glad to have found one now! Why does the diet makes me feel liberated? I realize how much more is less. A few perfect pieces is Nirvana. An over-stuffed closet is soul-crushing. My husband has had the right balance since I’ve known him: A uniform of black pants and shirts for work, and a uniform of jeans and t-shirts for play: he expresses himself creatively with hats, belts and sunglasses, but rarely adds anything to his basics. I have always been secretly jealous, but couldn’t put my finger on how to do it myself until I learn about the 6 items for a month plan. I realize more and more, that the more clothes I buy, the harder it is to value what I already have, and the more I want to buy to find something even better, and then what I already have starts looking pretty worthless or I can’t even see it in my closet..let’s end this vicious cycle !

If you try either of the challenges please let me know — I would love to hear your insights.  Perhaps you could be a guest blogger and tell us about your experience! 

 New York Times,  July 21, 2010

Shoppers on a ‘Diet’ Tame the Urge to Buy

By ERIC WILSON

IMAGINE that horrible though all-too-familiar feeling: You are standing before a fully stuffed closet and yet have nothing to wear.

Now, imagine something worse: Your closet contains only six items, and you are restricted to wearing only those six items for an entire month.

Now, if you can bear it, imagine something unspeakable:

No one notices.

Nearly a month into what amounted to just such a self-inflicted fast of fashion, Stella Brennan, 31, an insurance sales executive from Kenosha, Wis., realized last week that not even her husband, Kelly, a machinist, had yet figured out that she had been wearing the same six items, over and over, since June 21. The sad punch line is that Mr. Brennan is the one who actually does the laundry in the family.

During her experiment — something called a “shopping diet,” actually — which ended on Wednesday, Ms. Brennan made do with the following: a black blazer and pants from H & M; two button-down shirts, one black and one pink; a pair of Old Navy jeans; and one well-worn pink T-shirt.

How she settled on those items was complicated by the fact that she has two young children, a golden retriever and three cats, and that she was starting a new job last month with an hourlong commute. She said she needed “six items that are animal-hair-, kid-, food- and wrinkle-resistant. I need these items to be professional, but also work for playing football with my son and tea parties.”

She agonized the longest over the T-shirt — the button-down shirts and suit separates were for work, but the right T-shirt could be worn casually with jeans or dressed up with the blazer. Her revelation at the end of 31 days, after her husband still had not noticed, even when she wore her floral-printed pajamas to do yard work: “Obviously, I didn’t need all of these clothes.”

This self-imposed exercise in frugality was prompted by a Web challenge called Six Items or Less (sixitemsorless.com). The premise was to go an entire month wearing only six items already found in your closet (not counting shoes, underwear or accessories). Nearly 100 people around the country, and in faraway places like Dubai and Bangalore, India, were also taking part in the regimen, with motives including a way to trim back on spending, an outright rejection of fashion, and a concern that the mass production and global transportation of increasingly cheap clothing was damaging the environment.

Meanwhile, an even stricter program, the Great American Apparel Diet, which began on Sept. 1, has attracted pledges by more than 150 women and two men to abstain from buying for an entire year. (Again, undies don’t count.) And next month, Gallery Books will publish a self-help guide, called “The Shopping Diet,” by the red-carpet stylist Phillip Bloch. (“Step 1: Admit You’re an Overshopper”… “Step 9: Practice Safe, Responsible Shopping”… “Step 10: Make the Diet a Way of Life.”)

Though their numbers may be small, and their diets extreme, these self-deniers of fashion are representative, in perhaps a notable way, of a broader reckoning of consumers’ spending habits. As the economy begins to improve, shoppers of every income appear to be wrestling with the same questions: Is it safe to go back to our old, pre-recession ways? Or should we? The authors of these diets — including some fashion marketing and advertising executives, interestingly enough — seem to think not.

Sally Bjornsen, the founder of the Great American Apparel Diet (thegreatamericanappareldiet.com), said she was prompted to stop buying clothes for a simple reason: “I was sick and tired of consumerism,” she said.

Last summer, Ms. Bjornsen, 47, said she was thinking about how years of easy credit had led to overspending on cars, homes and luxury goods. Then, looking in her own closet, she realized that she was part of the problem, she said. For her job, as a representative of commercial photographers in Seattle and before that as a marketing executive at fashion companies like Nike and Nordstrom, she’d spent $5,000 to $10,000 a year on clothes.

“I was buying in an egregious way,” Ms. Bjornsen said. “I was just kind of grossed out by the whole thing.”

Independently, the “six items” experiment was conceived by two friends, Heidi Hackemer, 31, a strategic business director at the New York advertising agency BBH, and Tamsin Davies, 34, the head of innovation at Fallon London, after an informal discussion about their desires to pare down their wardrobes. The idea snowballed into a creative challenge, Six Items or Less.

The rules were not hard and fast. If a person owned, for example, several similar black blazers — as Ms. Brennan, the Wisconsin executive, did — she could count them as one item.

“Our whole thing was not to put a philosophy behind it, and not be too preachy,” Ms. Hackemer said. The challenge has proved so popular that she said it would be repeated this fall.

Her six items were a black dress, a pair of black jeggings (a jeans-leggings hybrid), a black tank top, a black blazer, a gray skirt and denim shorts. The combinations she came up with were surprisingly diverse enough to get her through the month, “but once you hit Week 3, you think, You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Sixers, as Six Items or Less enthusiasts call themselves, have formed something of an online fashion support network, especially when they feel tempted to fall off the wagon.

Ms. Brennan did sound ripe for some kind of fashion intervention. In a recent interview, she spoke of a rack of clothes in the back of her closet that still had the tags on them, and clothes that she has not worn in 15 years but that she cannot stand to part with, and her 72 pairs of “active” shoes (meaning those that she actively wears, not the ones still in the boxes), and a closet full of clothes for her 3-year-old daughter, and, lest she forget, a wardrobe of clothes for her dog.

“My daughter doesn’t care what she wears, and I’m turning her into a monster,” Ms. Brennan said. “We’re ruining the next generation of girls with fashion.”

THE dieters’ comments reflect the complicated and sometimes confused relationships between consumers and their closets — which perhaps was to be expected in a nation where women, on average, own seven pairs of jeans but wear only four regularly, according to the September issue of Consumer Reports’ ShopSmart magazine. One in four women asked by the magazine said she owned 10 pairs or more.

Still, the month has been grueling. One Sixer from Venice, Calif., confessed online to splurging on T-shirts at a James Perse sample sale. Addy, from Milwaukee, wrote that she had become so bored with her six items “that I don’t even have a desire to get up in the morning,” and she complained of mood swings.

But others describe a life-changing experience. Sneha Lakshman, 32, a founder of Dig Design, a Web and mobile products company in Bangalore, said by phone that she had decided, “That’s it, I’m going to wear only black from now on.”

Kelli Bauman, 24, a visual communications student from Indianapolis, said she was facing up to her compulsive-shopping habits. She described herself as the type who gets excited about buying cleaning products; a thrice-weekly shopper at Target. “I feel like I am programmed to want to buy new things,” she said. “When my jeans got a hole in them, I wanted to buy new jeans that instant.”

Just look at how far she has come. “I’ve only been to Target twice this whole time.” On one visit, she bought wasp spray and toothpaste for herself, but splurged on gifts for a bride-to-be — buying for someone else was like a “gateway drug,” she said.

Another Sixer, Dean Kakridas, 42, the director of business development at Frog Design, an innovation firm in Austin, Tex., said that he was obsessed with efficiency. “I kind of question everything,” he said, including why he was spending 20 minutes every morning figuring out what to wear.

He wanted to identify the clothes that made him happiest and fit his lifestyle. He chose a pair of G-Star jeans, two button-down shirts, two short-sleeve polo shirts and, cleverly, a pair of shorts from Life After Denim that are reversible (one side is solid charcoal; the other is plaid). Speaking like a programmer, he said: “Anything that removes complexity or cycles from your day is really valuable. I have freed a lot of bandwidth in my head.” (After three weeks on the program, however, he was quoting Coco Chanel: “I don’t do fashion. I am fashion.”)

The most interesting thing to many of the Sixers was how few people noticed what they were doing. Except, that is, for those who did. Mr. Kakridas said that his wife disapproved.

“My wife jabs at me almost on a daily basis,” he said. “She tries to get me to waver from the commitment and get me to cheat. She hid my Febreze from me.”

As with any diet, abstinence is not for everyone.

Of the 150-plus-people who signed up for the Great American Apparel Diet, about half have given up. Ms. Bjornsen’s own sister quit after four weeks. And she has herself cheated twice, once when she realized she had forgotten to bring her workout clothes to the gym, a second time when her husband told her that her pajamas looked worn out and gross. Though she said she feels no guilt about those indulgences, Ms. Bjornsen said that she was looking forward to the end of the diet on Aug. 31.

She had thought about ways to make money off the diet, she said, but instead she plans to pass on the management of the Web site to continuing and future participants.

“It’s taken about 10 to 20 years to build up the idea that nothing is good unless it is new,” Ms. Bjornsen said. “Five years from now, if the diet is still going, it would be interesting to see how that changes.”

A Great, GoodGuide

Any life form based on exponential growth on a finite planet is doomed.  Most economies around the world are now some form of capitalism.  The foundation of capitalism is exponential growth.  The driving engine of capitalism is the corporation.  Corporations are now the epicenter of economic and political power around the world.  The cornerstone of any attempt to create a sustainable society must address the anti-social and anti-democratic behavior of these organizations. It will require efforts at the highest level — revamping corporate law, passing national level legislation, enlightened decision-making by the supreme court, and perhaps even an amendment to the constitution.  It will likely require massive public outcry and sustained grassroots action to overcome the corporate center of gravity that currently overwhelms our political system.

So, yes, sharpen your pens and write your elected officials.  Get those protest signs painted and get out on the street.  Vote, and vote often.

There is also much we can do in our daily lives to point corporations in the right direction.  Corporations do respond to the demands of consumers.  Look at the morphing menu found at the fast food giant Mcdonald’s.  Due to rising pressure the chain did away with the “super size me” gimmick given the health implications.  Mcdonald’s also responded to the public’s demand for healthier foods by adding more salads, fruit, smaller sandwiches and oatmeal to the menu.  I had stopped going to Micky D’s years ago but began going again (occasionally, usually when traveling) since I could now get a decent salad there or at least a lower calorie meal.

Currently, corporations are rewarded only for providing the lowest price.  The success of Walmart is the clearest indicator of this.  Many of us buy our clothes there, or our TVs, or our groceries even though we know that  walmart treats it employees poorly, and that some (many?) of the products are made by people working under deplorable working conditions.  As a consumer it is very hard to know which products were made with safe ingredients, or if they employees were paid a livable wage, or if the product was produced in a way that is damaging to the environment.  At the moment there is no easy way to reward companies for good behavior – in fact these companies are often penalized because their products may carry a higher price.

Well, help is on the way.  There is a growing movement afoot to bring this type of information to the consumer at the point of sale.  So when you are standing at the store you will instantly, and easily compare products on their social impact, their health impact, and their environmental impact.  As a first step in this direction check out the GoodGuide here.  At this website you can find the social/health/environmental rating on a growing list of products.

I went to this website and looked up most of the personal hygiene products that I use — toothpaste, shampoo, soap, etc.  My entire life I have used Crest Toothpaste but based on the information I found here I decided to switch.

In these screen shots (click on the image to see it larger) I only showed the summary.  The website has detailed information for each category to indicate how the score was determined.

After I switched to my new brand of toothpaste I went to the Crest website and sent them a message explaining that I had switched and the reason why.  I mentioned that I had used their product most of my life and would be happy to switch back if they could improve their product score.  I sent them a link to their product at the GoodGuide website.  I explained that I am looking to support companies that produce products that are safe, environmentally responsible, and made by companies that treat their employees well.

I received a response from a Crest representative who explained that she will pass my concerns on to the management team.

There is another great website that focuses on cosmetics called Deep Skin, that rates skin care, makeup, hair care, nails, eye care, feminine hygiene, dental and oral hygiene, and fragrance products based on their risk to your health.

Start the revolution today.  Don’t shop.

When you must buy, look beyond price, and consider the true cost to society when making a purchase.  Use your purchase to reward responsible companies and help create a world we can be proud to live in.

A world full of Americans?

Many in the US believe that the rest of the world should follow in our economic footpath and if they do, they can benefit from the “American Dream.”  Philosophical questions aside, is this even possible?  Can the planet support a world full of people who consume in the same way as a typical American?

How do Americans consume?  This slide will give you a sense.

We represent about 5% of the world population which is indicated by that blue piece of the pie.  That is our fair share of resources from the planet.  The amount we actually consume is shown in blue + purple.  As you can see, we consume much, much more than our fair share.

Although 1/20th of the world’s population we consume
1/4 of the world’s fossil fuel;
1/3 of the world paper
1/5 of the worlds minerals

And America, 5% of the world’s population produces 75% of the worlds toxic waste.

So, how many “Americas” can the planet support?

The United States, at 5% of the world population (about 300 million people) consumes about 25% of the worlds resources.  Let’s imagine that another 300 million people develop in the same manner and live a similar lifestyle.  Now we have 10% of the world consuming 50% of the world’s resources.  Add another 300 million people and we have 15% of the world consuming 75% of the world’s resources.  One more time and we have 20% of humanity using 100% of the worlds resources.

Hmmn.  So 1.2 billion people are living very well.  But the current global population is 6.8 billion.  What happened to the other 5.6 billion people?

Well, they are dead.  We are using up all their resources.

Following our Lead
It is clear that the world cannot even support 4 “Americas.”  Turns out that the world is now following in our footsteps.  Most societies have some form of capitalism in place and they are succeeded in creating millions, and millions of new consumers.  People who are now living the same type of lifestyle we do in the US.

Let’s add them up:

  1. Unites States
  2. Europe (that is about 300 million people who live about as well as we do)
  3. China (china’s economy has been booming for the last 30 years…now have at least 300 million middle class consumers)
  4. India (India’s economy has been booming for the last decade or so, and have created roughly another “America”)
  5. Asian Middle Class (Add up the middle class from Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan and you get another 300 million consumers)
  6. Russia/Central Europe (Add up the growing wealthy elite in these countries and you get another 300 million)
  7. [email protected] (At the current rate of growth, China will add another 300 million to their middle class in the next 20 years)
  8. [email protected] (At the current rate of growth, India will add another 300 million to their middle class in the next 20 years)

Sooooo, in the next 20 years we are going to have 8 Americas come on line.  There is nothing subtle about this.  No room for negotiation.  There is no technology, or “greater efficiency” or production improvement that can deal with this.

For the current population to live like Americans, we would need five Earths.  We don’t have five earths but we are hurling ahead as if we do.

This last graph says it all.  Somewhere in the 1980’s we passed the carrying capacity of the earth.  The longer we stay above that horizontal line the more we are eating away at the earths natural resource capital.

Every day above that line we reduce the earths ability to support life on the planet.  For future generations to survive and flourish, we cannot take resources from the planet faster than the planet can regenerate them.

Our sense of what is a “realistic” lifestyle is simply off the charts.  We need to dramatically change our lives before mother earth does it for us.

  1. Buy Less
  2. Work Less
  3. Drive Less (get rid of one of those cars)
  4. Reduce, Re-use, Recycle
  5. Buy local (when you must)
  6. Live more.  Family.  Friends.  Self

Check out:
Simple Living.net

Story of Stuff

This great animated film offers some powerful insight into the nature of the society we created and the impact it has on ourselves and communities far from our own.  In just 20 minutes Annie hits all the key notes in a fun and creative way.  Check it out.  Send it on to your friends and family.  And check out her website to see other great videos and tons of education information.

YouTube Preview Image

Give Earth a Hand

What do we really want?

If you like this video, consider supporting the creators.

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