Our spending is destroying the planet. Here are 7 actions anyone can take to combat the overconsumption crisis.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
We're excited to dive into consumerism because that's the reason why so many of our Soapbox community members came to us. Last year, we were featured in the New York Times about this very topic. Fun, right?
We're coming full circle (#CircularEconomy) and we can take action to shift away from consumerism.
Here’s what we’ll cover step-by-step:
This Action Pack highlights one of our favorite journalists, Emily Atkin, who argues that consumerism IS the problem and climate change is the most serious symptom. Let's debunk this.
🎯 Action step 1 of 4: READ — Let's start by looking at a few articles together.
Emily Atkin, author of HEATED, one of our favorite climate newsletters, wrote this article called "Climate Change Is the Symptom. Consumer Culture Is the Disease" and it lays out why we absolutely need to take on responsibility for climate change as consumers.
You'll learn that:
We can only solve the climate crisis through collective action. Yes, we have to put pressure on corporations and government, but we ALSO have to buy less, waste less food, bike around, and shift the ways we live. (Some people say sacrifice; we say fun new adventures.) Make sure to read the full article on New Republic!
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 1 of 4: READ.
🎯 Action step 2 of 4: LISTEN — we'll watch a short video or listen to a podcast to further expand on our topic.
So many questions are floating in our heads!
Let's watch video about the history of consumerism, since most of us know we're in a wack situation but not why we're in it.
Here's what's going on:
Maybe we do need consumerism, but it has to look different. Consumerism itself may not be inherently bad. Buying stuff CAN help us finance the way we meet people's needs. Adam Smith (yes, that Adam Smith), asked: what if instead of purchasing useless things to stimulate the economy, we fulfilled our higher needs, buying things like books and investing in beautiful cities?
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 2 of 4: LISTEN.
🎯 Action step 3 of 4: ACT — Now it's time to do something. Let's go!
We literally cannot afford to keep consuming at our current rate. Here's a mix of individual actions, advocacy, and random fun tips to question consumerism.
1. Join your local Buy Nothing group.
If you've been a long-time Soapbox community member, you know we'll never shut up about this. Neighborhood gifting economies are truly one of our best sustainability "discoveries" of all time. Remember, how we mentioned our founder, Nivi, set up her apartment for <$300? Other than the Buy Nothing Project, there's also FreeCycle, Churn, and more privately-funded platforms like Olio, Mercari, and OfferUp. Buy Nothing is Nivi's favorite, but it really depends on your neighborhood.
2. Orient your activities around public spaces.
Who says you have to eat a restaurant or drink at a coffee shop to meet up with friends? Make the most of your parks, libraries, and other public spaces. If you don't have any, advocate for them.
3. Get a library card and a tool lending library membership.
A lot of the stuff we buy — books, movies, tools — might actually be up for borrowing depending on where you live. We get free audiobooks + Kindle books with the Libby app (bye, Audible). Tool lending libraries exist in cities around the world whether you need to use a 3d printer or a hose! Find yours here.
4. Support your local textile recycler.
Find yours here. Organizations like FabScrap and Queen of Raw are giving fabrics destined for landfills a second chance. Textile recycling helps you waste less, buy less new things, and get creative with your fabrics. 🎉
5. Advocate for right-to-repair policies.
The Restart Project based in UK "was born in 2013 out of our frustration with the throwaway, consumerist model of electronics that we’ve been sold, and the growing mountain of e-waste that it’s leaving behind". In addition to advocacy, they even throw community-based parties to teach people how to repair devices! Also Microsoft will make its devices easier to fix, which is a huge right-to-repair win.
6. Gift experiences, not thingy-things.
Maybe don't gift a luxury spaceship ride. But some ideas: a National Parks Pass for the country you live in, a sewing machine, dinner at a fancy locally-sourced restaurant, an e-reader. Here's a gift guide and an easy list of sustainable gift wrapping solutions.
7. Journal about an item that you own. What's its story?
For this exercise, you can use any object in sight. For me, it's my new glasses I got yesterday (literally in sight — they're on my face currently). Where did they get shipped from? Where were they made? Who likely made them? W've noticed that thinking about our "stuff" changes the way we feel about them, for better or for worse.
The good news is, changing your consumption habits can be FUN and save you tons of money and time!
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 3 of 4: ACT.
Before we go any further, it's time for you to pledge your commitment. It takes less than 30 seconds to pledge and we can bother you about it in a friendly way, so we can hold each other accountable. Pledge here!
🎯 Action step 4 of 4: REFLECT — what can you commit to? What fresh perspectives can we look at?
To wrap this Action Pack up, we'll share two things: 1) a reader reflection and 2) a short animated video of the Hopi Origin Story. The modern-day Hopi people live in Arizona, but of course, their history and Indigenous roots transcend America's state borders. The storytelling and language of the video blew our minds to the moon and back — you'll never see this kind of beauty in videos of people trampling other people during Black Friday (#consumerism).
Here's some thoughts about the video from earlier:
The video was interesting, but I felt that the takeaway was dangerously close to arguing for commodifying or privatizing critical social needs. Its calls for a new kind of consumerism based on an "economy focused around buying and selling services and goods focused on our higher needs" is dangerously close to things like privatized medicine or even more dystopian concepts like privatized fire and emergency services. If such things can be classified as "higher needs" then selling it on the free market cuts off access to these higher needs for those without means. Adam Smith ponders about the virtue of buying and selling books, and indeed, today we sell textbooks so prohibitively expensive that college students despair if they are required reading. If the video isn't trying to make this argument, then it unfortunately doesn't do a very good job of it.
This idea of making consumerism involve important services reminds me of a controversy in the news recently, about this new reality show that was proposed centered around activism, where activists would compete with each other for social media outreach and monetary support. Anti-Racism Daily gave a good analysis for why this was a distasteful idea here.
Now, another video!
This video is family-friendly, and if you've seen the 7th Harry Potter, the animation in this video reminds us of the Hallows scene. Take 4 minutes out of your day to watch this beautiful Hopi Origin Story.
To move away from consumerism, we need a cultural shift. One that reminds us that we're stewards of the earth; we're a natural part of the earth. Our role is to defend and live in harmony, instead of extract and live in dominance. We must build this cultural shift together.
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 4 of 4: REFLECT.
Check out our membership community for more resources like free weekly events with social justice experts, sustainable product discounts, pre-written email templates, a social impact job board, and in-person hangouts with new friends. Thanks for taking action with Soapbox Project!
Get our free bite-sized climate action plans before you go!