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How holiday shopping season fuels a rapidly warming planet

How holiday shopping season fuels a rapidly warming planet

Stacks of logs piled alongside a narrow road, with the ocean behind.

As extreme weather events in Canada and around the world are linked to human-made climate changeOne story is still missing: the link between climate change, the products we buy.

Recent research shows that across a product’s life cycle — from raw material extraction through manufacturing, distribution, use and disposal — the total embedded carbon emissions are 6.3 times the product’s weight. Interestingly, it is the product’s supply chain, or what we do not see related to making and distributing products, that is especially carbon intensive.

The changes in our relationship to the material world have occurred in a matter of seconds, as seen through the lens of human history. Our ancestors lived in direct relationship with the land that supported them physically and spiritually.

In human history’s recent past, so many people have lived their lives so far from the things that sustain them. Today, unchecked consumption is driving a changing climate which is very much affecting everyone.

Stories to help you buy more stuff

Companies have spent a lot of money and time to educate people about the increasing value of the ever-increasing supply of stuff since the Industrial Revolution. They have told usWhat to love, what our stuff says. Victor Lebow, a marketing consultant, wrote in the Journal of Retailing in 1955, “We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing pace.”

Appeals to consume more stuff — clothes, electronics, appliances, toys, cars and so on — used to be found only in advertisements. In the 1990s the average American was targeted. 3,000 advertising messages a day.

Today’s appeals to consume are almost impossible to count. They are seamlessly and inexorably woven into our screen-filled life via text messages, personalized pop-up appeals, and social media posts that celebrate consumption like influencer haul videos.

Between 2008 and 2016, haul videos from social media influencers became increasingly popular. They show clothing, jewelry, and makeup from a single store.

Our stuff and climate changes

In the last few decades, those living in more materially prosperous areas of the globe have enthusiastically added to their lives and discarded less. In the U.S. for example the average person’s consumption of stuff has doubled in the past 50 yearsIn 2019, North Americans were almost able to dispose of almost all of their possessions. 21 kilograms of electronic waste per person.

The consequences of our rabid consumption are borne out in the planet’s ecosystems. Consumption in “developed” countries has led to massive-scale logging of the Earth’s forestsJust leave it. three per cent of the world’s ecosystems intact. Plastics have been used and disposed of in large numbers. eight million tonnes of plastic waste into the world’s oceans each year.

These outcomes have historically been experienced as “tragedies of the commons.” This implies that the consequences are “out there,” that the degradation and devastation were not been experienced firsthand — but climate change has changed that, taking lives and livelihoods, destroying homes and entire towns with extremes of heat, drought, wind, fire and floods.

Life cycles matter

It begins with the collection of “resources” — minerals, metals, oil, water and wood — and follows with their assembly into products, their distribution, use and often quick disposal. Each step in a product’s life cycle has environmental consequences and a carbon footprint.

For example, trees are the Earth’s carbon storehouse but the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimates that 10 million hectares of forests are lost each year. Furniture and furnishings from municipal waste (mostly wooden products) were valued at almost nine million tonnesAccording to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2018, there was nearly five times as much landfilled in 2018 than in 1960. But, old-growth forest are being cut down. consumers don’t know which forest products contain 100-year-old trees.

While producing or buying differently may decrease our carbon footprint, ultimately, the planet’s wealthiest will need to produce and consume less.

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Stacks of logs piled alongside a narrow road, with the ocean behind.
The timber port at Owendo, Gabon, is near Libreville. Recent research found that the U.S. was contributing to the loss of Central African forest through its furniture imports from China. Gabon supplied the largest amount of wood to China from this region until a 2010 law reduced the export of unprocessed logs.
(Shutterstock)

Both large-scale and small-scale changes are needed

It could be worthwhile to try to spend less during holidays. Americans, for example, produce 25 per cent more waste between U.S. Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, discarding half of their yearly paper waste — holiday wrapping and decorations — totalling about eight billion tonnes. Canadians will send more than that. 2.6 billion cards and wrap gifts using 540,000 tonnes of wrapping paperOver the holidays. Each kilogram of paper produces 3.5 kilograms carbon dioxide.

In fact, acknowledging the excessive consumption of the wealthy and their climate impact is an important part of coming up with terms with consumption. UNEP points out that the planet’s richest 10 per cent contribute almost 50 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, while the planet’s poorest 50 per cent contribute only 12 per cent of global emissions.

Courier delivering shopping to an elderly woman with face mask.
Giving is important but we must give less stuff, slowly and with more thought.
(Shutterstock)

Giving is a wonderful way to connect and strengthen relationships with people in our lives. Giving builds relationships, friendships, and communities. These connections are more important than ever. But we must let go of the endless supply of consumption stories that have taught us so much.

We must challenge stories that encourage fast and “cheap” consumption and demand the telling of — and share — stories that accurately link our copious consumption to the devastating effects of climate change. We must elect leaders that will make the transition from an endless growth economy built on excessive consumption to a sustainable one. monetarily cheap but planet-expensive products. We must demand product information such as life cycle carbon footprints. We must all resist the temptation to consume quickly and cheaply by giving less, more slowly, and with more thought.

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