Stuff: a climate catastrophe

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Our Climate Officer, Matthew Hahn has written a powerful personal reflection with the working title:
Reconsidering our personal relationship with ‘Stuff’

Just under 20 years ago, I left the United States for the United Kingdom under the guise of pursuing a Masters degree in London.  Yes, the programme was one that I was interested in pursuing, but by my late teens in the early 1990’s I had realized that I was terribly uncomfortable with the virulent capitalism of the United States and wanted out.  The final straw was an hour-long conversation with my then roommate about the size of the television set he wanted for our living room. I decided then and there that this would be the final conversation about large [and largely disposable] consumer goods.

Although unsure of the situation in the UK, I figured that anywhere was better than in the states.  Upon arrival, however, I soon realized – though in a much better place – the UK was heading the way of the US in its relationship with stuff.  Over several years, I have seen first-hand the evolution of the United Kingdom into a powerhouse of consumerism that rivals the United States.  And this troubles me deeply.  I have found myself having way too many conversations lately about television sizes [or gaming systems or cars or take away coffee cups or carrier bags] that remind of years past. 

As individuals, we must take personal responsibility when it comes to the climate catastrophe that we are currently facing.  We must consume less.  It isn’t enough to ‘Reduce, Reuse or Recycle,’ we must now add to that mantra ‘Reconsider’ – ‘Do I really need / want this?’.  On a personal level, we must reconsider our relationship to stuff. This certainly includes big stuff like televisions, automobiles and the like but also to the little stuff like take away coffee cups, single-use carrier bags, printing and sending emails[i]

Those of us in the Global North don’t seem to want to reduce the amount of stuff we consume even if we are happy to adapt to supposed less destructive means [electronic[ii] v petrol cars for instance] but this isn’t good enough.  We must simply consume less.  This is a tricky proposition for a population in the northern hemisphere [generalizing] – asking us to reconsider if we really need 1] that electric car [which is hardly environmentally or socially friendly], 2] that take away cup of coffee, 3] that wood burning stove, 4] that flight.  Very few people want to give up the creature comforts that capitalism has offered many of us.  Many in the Global South [generalizing] don’t have the option of electric cars, disposable coffee cups or bio-fuels and yet their individual impact on the environment pales in comparison to those in the Global North.  Everyone must reconsider their individual impact on the environment and must consume less.  By doing that, we would address the point of merely ‘rearranging the deck chairs’ [substituting one terrible polluter for a less terrible polluter] as well as reduce our need for fossil fuels. 

In calling for this reconsideration, I am by no way absolving the government or industry of their massive contribution to our environmental catastrophe.  We need action from both today not in 10, 15 or 20 years[iii].  We no longer have that luxury.  We need the government & industry act now and phase out single use plastics including coffee cups, bottles, cutlery and condiment sachets along with ‘travel size’ toiletries.  We need the government & industry to embrace green technology and to create sustainable green jobs for the future.   But we also must avoid the label of ‘hypocrite’ –less ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ and more ‘Be the change I want to see.’

Notes/references and further reading

(i)What’s the carbon footprint of … email?

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/green-living-blog/2010/oct/21/carbon-footprint-email

(ii) Are electric vehicles really so climate friendly?

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/25/are-electric-vehicles-really-so-climate-friendly

(iii) The spiralling environmental cost of our lithium battery addiction

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/lithium-batteries-environment-impact

(iv) Climate change: UK aim of 68% emissions cut a ‘colossal challenge’

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-55179008

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