On shopping

Ah, shopping. Where would we be without it? At this time above all others, we are being called upon to Shop. If we shirk our duty, consumer confidence – which needs constant boosting, like the self-esteem of a teenage girl – will plummet. If that goes, it doesn’t bear thinking about. So position yourself behind the biggest trolley you can find, and shop.

Only problem is, a lot of the stuff that will be bought over the next couple of weeks – including whole puppies and kittens – will be barely used, unloved, unwanted, stored at the back of the linen cupboard and/or discarded. Young dogs will eventually turn up at animal shelters, garbage will pour into landfill and atoms of carbon dioxide will float off into the atmosphere to wreak havoc on our atmosphere.

So what are we to do, when it’s good to spend but bad to consume? One cheap and easy thing we can do is refuse to buy things that are just silly. Anti-bacterial hand gel, for example. Here it is, spreading across the land in its own plastic bottles and pump-action lids, offering convenience and cleanliness and the solution to problems we didn’t realise we even had until just a little while ago. But the anti-bacterial obsession doesn’t stop there. I recently saw a TV ad that showed how the wall above a baby’s bed was crawling with germs. The idea was to terrify parents into buying a particular anti-bacterial spray. Being clean is no longer good enough; people are now encouraged to go for hospital-grade sterility in their own hands and homes. This is unnecessary and may even be harmful – our immune systems need something to work on to keep them functioning properly.

If you’re blessed with spare cash, another path to sustainability is to go off in the other direction and spend a lot of money. Rather than buy cheap junk that will need to be replaced in six month’s time, buy more expensive items that will last a long time and can even be repaired. A hand-crafted dining table made to last for generations is far less damaging than a new, cheap imported table marinated in industrial chemicals that will need to be replaced in five years’ time. So whether you spend a little or a lot, there’s always some way you can show the environment that you care. Tracy Sorensen is the publicity officer for Bathurst Community Climate Action Network (BCCAN). Visit www.bccan.org.au

First published in the Western Advocate (Bathurst, NSW, Australia) on Saturday, 18 December 2010.

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