Friday, June 19, 2015

Planet of the Humans


“Who says ‘green’ anymore?” I ask, to no one in particular. I’m watching some newscaster on some cable channel and they’re talking about getting “more green”.

My other half isn’t really paying attention, his eyes locked on his laptop screen. “What’s the context?” he asks.

“Green, you know, like the environment,” I say. “As in ‘being green’ is environmentally responsible.”

He glances up, stares at the television for a moment, then rolls his eyes and shrugs at me. “The media is always 10 years out of date,” he says. He looks back at his laptop and starts typing. “It’s just a buzz word anyway. It’s for ratings.”

Which is probably true. “Green” has a healthy sound to it. As if, by becoming “more green”, little plants will spring up from the ground and the whole planet will smile in gratitude. “Green” sounds bright and cheery - a lot better than “waste reduction” or “recycling” or “emission caps”. And “green” is easy to say, easy to think, easy to pronounce. Unlike “responsibility” or “sustainability” or “carbon footprint”.

Maybe “green” is still the word of choice, but it’s not getting the job done. We still live in a consumables culture where we buy for cheap, throw it way because it’s cheap and then buy more for cheap. Things are so cheap, we ditch our 5 year old car, our 8 year old house, our 2 year old dishes, our 1 year old clothes - because we want NEW. We want new, our kids want new, we want new FOR our kids.

And all this cheap, disposable stuff generates a tremendous amount of waste. There’s the waste created at the factories producing our cheap stuff. There’s waste created at the packaging company. Then there’s waste generated during shipment and more waste tacked-on during marketing the cheap stuff. And let’s not forget our part: the waste we create when we discard it.


Much of the time, products are designed to become obsolete. Like smart watches, smartphones, computers, gaming consoles and cars. Cheap kitchen pots and pans, utensils and appliances have to be routinely replaced due to poor design, poor finishes and faulty parts. I would even argue that some of the new homes being constructed are built to become obsolete or at least require significant renovations after 10 years or so. And all that obsolete stuff ensures demand for more stuff while generating colossal waste.

Our oceans are filling up with discarded plastics. Our landfills continue to balloon. Our water supply is laced with industrial waste. Even the air we breathe is filled with pollutants. And it’s only getting worse as we demand more and more stuff.

For example, the planet’s largest deep water reservoirs are drying up. California is experiencing an unprecedented water shortage. Areas of Texas have seen shocking droughts while other areas see devastating floods. Greenland is melting at an astonishing rate. The antarctic ice shelves are collapsing. Islands in the Pacific are slowly disappearing into the rising ocean. Venice (in Italy) now faces increased flooding throughout the year. Shrimp and other sea life in the Gulf of Mexico continue to be clogged with oil and chemicals from the BP spill and resulting “clean-up” efforts. And that’s just a tiny handful of this planet’s environmental problems.

I don’t care if you think climate change is real or a hoax. I don’t care what your political views are. I don’t care what country you hail from. I think we can ALL agree we don’t want to live in a wasteland surrounded by stinking, clogged oceans and strapping on gas masks just to breath. Is the new must-have Apple Watch really worth it? Are the oh-so-convenient disposable plates really worth it? Is the just-for-fun summer BWM roadster really worth it?

This isn’t about better recycling programs (although that could help). It’s not about cleaner renewable energy or better fuel efficiency (although that too could help). It’s not about tighter air-quality regulations (that too could help). And it’s not about better product quality control (but that too could help). It’s not any of that. Companies and governments talk about that stuff like it’s a solution. And we like companies and government who talk about it because it makes us feel more responsible. It helps us feel better about demanding more, demanding new. We tell ourselves little lies to obscure the real problem: “We just need to recycle more” or “We just need more fuel-efficient cars” or “We just need to do a better job of regulating those polluters” or “Companies just need to make longer-lasting products.”

That stuff is all good and we absolutely should pursue better recycling programs, zealous renewable energy programs, improved fuel efficiency, stringent air-quality regulations and rigorous manufacturing quality controls. And we should be doing all of that right now. But the real problem starts with us: We’re greedy, greedy people who are unwilling to sacrifice what we want for the greater good of the planet. We want more and we want new and we want it now.


I’m not wagging my finger at you. I include myself in this collective “we”. I’m just as guilty of wanting more and wanting it now. I don’t need a new phone, but I want one. I don’t need a new car, but I want one of those too. I don’t NEED half the stuff in my kitchen - yet there it is. Same with all the DVDs, Blu-rays, books and cookbooks.

But change starts with us. It starts with me. Instead of buying that must-have Apple Watch, I can refuse. Because I don’t need it and it’s not worth the manufacturing, shipping, marketing and disposal waste it generates. Instead of buying that new KitchenAid Proline 7 Quart stand mixer in Onyx Black, I can refuse. Because I don’t need it and it’s not worth it. Same with the soon-to-be new Honda Ridgeline truck. Or the next Marvel superhero Blu-ray or that shiny Wustoff Culinar 36-piece knife set.

Change is up to us and it’s as easy as not buying and not demanding new. And it can start with just one purchase at a time. Maybe we don’t buy prepackaged cookies and we bake some ourselves. Maybe we don’t buy that new 72” flatscreen because our 42” is just fine. Maybe we don’t buy a new car because with a little care our 5-year-old model will keep us moving for another 5 years. And maybe we don’t need to build a new home - we can fix up the current house, maybe bunk the boys together and give up the craft room for the new baby.

Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe we really do want to live in a wasteland surrounded by putrid, stinking oceans while breathing through strap-on gas masks. We may not have drinkable water, breathable air or farmable land, but at least we’ll still be able to read text messages on our Apple Watch.

“Don’t worry,” my other half says, five minutes after I’ve completely forgotten about the newscaster’s reference to “green”. My other half smiles at me and pats my knee. “There’ll be another bright, shiny object to distract everyone by tomorrow.”

I smile, only half-listening. “Did I ever show you this 36-piece knife-set from Wustoff?”


  1. My 3 year old plus smart phone.... wags its finger at you. LOL! :) Honestly though, I don't buy new stuff as much. I keep my stuff longer, but then things aren't designed to last longer, because companies don't make as much that way which angers me because I love to keep my stuff forever without having to replace it and this long run on sentence is just horrible but I thought it was appropiate and funny, however it is most likely not either. LOL... I don't know why I did that. I was on a roll....I done rolled off the cliff.

    Back to the subject at hand. Yep, I think there is too much waste. All I have to do to check that is look at the trash on garbage day and I'm like wow... unbelievable. Or I just have to head into a thrift store and see the "things we buy today" end up there tomorrow as donations. Or I have to just take a moment and watch "hoarders" and look around my neighborhood at all the cars parked outside in the driveway while the garages are busting at the seems with things that my neighbors just had to buy.

    Okay, now I'm wagging my finger at everyone. Yikes, I just noticed as I did that, there were three fingers wagging back at me. And folks, that is where this train is stopping!

  2. I'm trying to do better at cutting back myself. And trying to be better as "Use it up, wear it out, make do, do without." But for me there's definitely still room for improvement. And bravo for keeping your phone for 3 years plus. It's not easy, especially as the software ages and updates are no longer released :(

  3. I'm almost too the point of a new phone. As I get older, I just don't want "stuff". I'm trying to get rid of "stuff" and not accumulate it.