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Black Friday or Buy Nothing Day? Your choice

Friday 27 November is a nightmare for the indecisive among us. On one hand it’s Black Friday and that means the discount-fuelled, frenzied start of the Christmas shopping season.

On the other it’s Buy Nothing Day, an invitation to pledge to escape the “shopalypse” for 24 hours.

What is Black Friday?

Black Friday is yet another American import, and over there it’s standard for some shops to open at midnight.

Reportedly 7 deaths and nearly 100 injuries have been linked to this trading day in the past 10 years.

So what drives us to these extremes of behaviour in the cause of a discounted TV?

The root causes of our shopping obsession are complex

Everybody needs stuff. That’s a given, and there is undeniable pleasure in acquiring certain things.

The huge increase in consumption in recent decades has, however, been driven by a number of factors.

Many of us, though by no means all, have more disposable income (pdf) – good news, but we are pounded by celebrity culture and advertising to consume products with built in obsolescence.

In a double whammy, portable technology and social platforms mean that we are shelling out for products that are increasingly effective at advertising more stuff back to us.

Effects of over-consumption

So where does this leave us? With an unhealthy dependency on consumption to define our identities (pdf).

Increasingly it’s what we have, rather than who we are or what we do, that defines us.

Inequality – high in both the UK and US – is also a key factor in consumption (pdf) because when the income gap is large we are more driven to consume to try and compete, to emulate the “haves”.

And while some of us have too much, there are many both in the UK and abroad who simply don’t have enough.

Facts about consumption

Rising consumption of the key resources used to manufacture the products we consume is a huge environmental problem.

Many key resources are finite and the rate we are using them up at is terrifying.

And of course there’s reams of evidence that excessive consumption just isn’t good for us.

Author James Walman makes the point that experiences, like connecting with nature and enjoying time with family and friends, are far more important to our wellbeing.

Also – as we approach the vital UN climate talks in Paris, there is a rather large elephant in the room linked to our consumption.

UK greenhouse gas emissions would be at least 50% higher (pdf) if they were to include the emissions from manufacturing the products we consume, as seems reasonable.

Essentially the outsourcing of much of our manufacturing has also outsourced a massive chunk of the emissions we are responsible for.

Circular Economy explained

So what can be done? Lots actually. First we need smarter ways to run our economy and produce the products we all need.

Increasingly known as the Circular Economy, this isn’t just about more recycling.

It’s a different way of thinking about the production process where the consumption of virgin raw materials is minimised.

Products would be:

  • far better designed
  • more durable
  • repairable
  • efficient in manufacture and use.

Hiring rather than buying options for seldom-used products makes complete sense in some cases.

Some companies are already adopting these principles. More companies need to get on with it. Sharpish.

We also need action to tackle what helps to drive over-onsumption by:

  • Measures to reduce all forms of inequality (pdf)
  • Initiatives to promote sharing, control advertising and encourage more careful consumption (pdf) as well as healthier ways to express who we are

There’s also something you can do this very weekend.

Skip the shopping trip and join thousands of like-minded people on one of the marches for climate and jobs taking place in towns and cities across the country.

Decision made and the planet won. Great.

Post written by Richard Dyer, 26th November 2015.

Richard Dyer is an economics and resources campaigner


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