• Ed Flattau

Shopping and Climate Change

How should climate change impact our shopping habits? Quite a bit if we want to secure an environmentally sustainable world for future generations.

To meet the challenge of climate change, we need to modify our entrenched energy-intensive marketplace mentality, as traumatic as that transition might be.

Our materialistic-oriented economy will have to disengage from its reliance on pervasive planned obsolescence. That formula is designed to encourage rapid turnover of everyday purchases. It squanders resources and reinforces the wasteful image of a “throwaway society” in which the manufacture of many short-lived goods spews out an unwelcome excess of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Washington -based World Resources Institute (WRI), a respected environmental think tank, has been exploring solutions to this conspicuous consumption dilemma. According to WRI, the apparel industry’s production cycle generates ten percent of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions. Producing a single pair of jeans emits as much greenhouse gas as a car on an 80 mile trip.

Annual manufacture of polyester garments releases as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as 185 coal fired power plants. These numbers take on added significance when WRI points out the following. The average American consumer is spending 60 percent more on clothing than at the turn of this century, yet keeps the garments half as long.

WRI is not suggesting an end of consumer ownership in its advocacy to reform the resource-profligate “fast fashion” lifestyle. Instead, it urges more emphasis on renting and reuse of clothing. When purchasing new additions for a wardrobe, one should do so for the long haul. That puts the pressure on manufacturers to adjust to consumers’ tastes.

But how does the garment business make money in this setup? Charge more for high quality

durable goods and establish an accompanying operation to repair and upgrade them.

What of individual consumers who in an ever more crowded world have to divorce themselves from beloved conspicuous consumption?

They need to embrace a cultural shift in which greater value is attached to the attainment of knowledge and cultivation of high-quality personal relationships than to a closet full of designer clothes.

The rapid integration of the internet into virtually every facet of daily life is ideal for facilitating this cultural transition. Ubiquitous computer use invariably has elevated the societal importance of information gathering and retention, with no end in sight.

To get a handle on global warming, society must not view conservation as a dressed-up version of deprivation. Instead, the conservation ethic should be regarded as an affirmation of the truism that less can be more, and treated as a national status symbol. There would be no need to suppress human nature’s innate acquisitive streak since success would be measured by how much one could squeeze out of less.


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