Dare to care in an ocean of apathy and expenditure
- Schalk Mouton
COLUMN: Black Friday blues’ impact on my quest to go green, on my green backs, and the implications for Earth.
It is Black Friday. Getting to work today is easy. There’s no traffic. On 702, the traffic reporter makes a joke about traffic being 70 percent discounted. Funny man.
The newsreader talks about queues of shoppers trampling each other just to get ahead in the queue. I can see the pictures in my mind. It is all too familiar. Too fresh.
A bruising Black Friday
It all started out as excitement at the local Game store the night before. There was such a vibe before the doors opened at midnight. People telling each other what they were going for, the research they had done, their budgets all worked out. I made at least three recce trips to the store in the past two weeks, so that I could find the fastest, shortest route to my favourite bargains.
How I was going to pay for my spoils was of no concern. My budget already blown on two new cell phone contracts and a beach umbrella that I just couldn’t resist. My current contract ends in only four months’ time, but the deal the telesales person offered just sounded so good. And, after all, what are credit cards for?
3 … 2 … 1 … STORM
The going is slow. Like the start of the Comrades. Just more physical. Push. Shove. Duck from a swinging golden handbag. I feel a kid crawling in between my feet. He’s the only person, really moving … brilliant!
I get on my hands and knees and follow him. Going is quicker. Much quicker. Almost at the front of the brawling mob now. I hear people screaming. Shouting. Swearing. Someone faints right behind me. Luckily, I had already passed through, else she would have blocked my way.
But then … a big, juicy, white calf is planted between me and my path to eternal consumer happiness. A tattoo of the familiar Apple Inc. logo stretches across it … looking like a slightly overripe avo.
The sight is not too appetising. Yet, it is the only way I can think of to make it through. I close my eyes, and plant my teeth firmly into the avo … A scream! The calf moves. I dodge the handbag then slip through …
In the store now. Fresh, cool, airconditioned air washes over me. Total bliss.
I realise immediately that I can’t waste any time. I am not alone. People are already flooding into the store. I run. Past the fruit and veggie counter, through the stationery section. Into the camping section … the Weber braais are 50 percent off. I hesitate for a moment, but I can’t lose focus. I run on.
As I stumble into the entertainment section. Breath wheezing. Heart beating. I stop in horror at the sight confronting me. A man putting up a SOLD OUT! sign on the Playstation 4 display, while a bratty little boy – the very same little critter who led me through the gauntlet at the door – walks away with the last Playstation under his arms. He turns around and flashes a fiendish grin my way.
Keeping up with the Kardashians, the Krugers, the Kakazas
Black Friday creepily snuck its way into South Africa’s consumer market. A couple of years ago there was no such thing. People happily bought whatever they needed at whatever price they could find. Now, this American consumer ploy seems to have grown bigger than Christmas itself. It is as if everybody lost their faith in Santa Claus…
And, South Africans are not the only ones being led by the nose. In Paris, Amazon is estimated to have made 2.5 million deliveries on Black Friday. This is 10 times more than usual, leading some “greenies” to blockade the road leading out of the company’s warehouse in Paris, in protest against the over production and consumerist culture that is being created … not even to mention all the greenhouse gas emissions from the deliveries.
We have been successfully brainwashed into thinking that the more we have, the happier we will be. Everything needs to be bigger, better, smarter and newer. We are trapped in a consumerist lifecycle, and, while it is not all our fault, we are happy to play along.
Every two years our cellphone contracts run out and need to be “upgraded”. Six months before the end of your contract, you start to get bombarded about new “deals” for your upgrade. Some companies offer car allowances that in effect force employees to buy a new car every four years. Unlike in the old days where products were built to last forever, they are now built to spontaneously implode in a set amount of time.
Consumer brands spend millions on market and psychological research, aimed at trapping us into believing we cannot possibly live without their product – while a couple of years ago, that product didn’t even exist.
Down to Earth with Millennials
In 2018, while doing my MSc in Global Change, I calculated my environmental footprint. I found out that If everybody on Earth were living the same lifestyle as I do, we would need 2.2 planet Earths to sustain ourselves.
This is shocking. My wife and I are very environmentally conscious. We don’t buy stuff we don’t need. Both of us have bought our cars over 10 years ago. We re-use water where we can and use resources like electricity sparingly. We even chose not to have children because of the impact each human has on our planet. Yet, my lifestyle is outstripping the very resources we have to live on. And it is not even about us. It is about the generations of people that come after us.
In my research, I interviewed a number of students on how they think climate change would affect them. All were very worried about their future, and how climate change might impact their lives, but none of them knew how to deal with it, or how to change their lifestyles to cope with it. One student – a 24-year-old girl, broke my heart by saying that she would love to have children, but, at her early age, had decided not to, because of the world we are leaving for them.
Two other students taught me that our consumer and lifestyle choices are not entirely our own. Even if we did care about our environment, our infrastructure, society and circumstances influence our actions. The students growing up in rural areas said that due to the lack of municipal services, their waste disposal happens wherever possible – mostly by dumping it in a river or burning it.
Their circumstances make my little environmentalist pet peeve seem petty: For over 30 years, my coffee filters came packed individually loose in a box. Only in the last year – when everything and everyone else is trying to get rid of single use plastics – has the company started to wrap these filters in a flimsy wrapping plastic. Why?
Gathering my breath outside the GAME store. My main mission unsuccessful, I take stock of my loot: a new rolling, perching ergonomic chair; a banana slicer; two packets of baby nappies (I don’t have children) and a new tennis racquet at 15% off – even though the closest that I ever come to a tennis court is to watching Wimbledon on the TV set that I looted last year at 20% off.
This can’t go on. Whether you believe in climate change or not – and you definitely should – our way of life is unsustainable and should be changed. We need to start to care and make new consumer choices. Only the choice you make when choosing to take out your wallet (or not to take it out), will change things.
Go on, I dare you. Give a damn.
- Schalk Mouton is a Senior Communications Officer in Wits Communications.
- This article first appeared in Curiosity, a research magazine produced by Wits Communications and the Research Office.
- Read more in the ninth issue, themed: #ClimateEmergency how our researchers investigate the impact and implications of global change and climate change on people, places, and politics.