In my withered, Covid-infested state I find myself doing less and less for the big battles we need to win: Yer climate breakdown, yer rise of fascism, yer eating the rich. Still, I’m looking for ways I can make an impact even if I can’t be hands on. After all, says I, when Voldemort was just a wispy mess knocking about the back of people’s heads he was still getting shit done. I can’t plant trees myself but I can give to tree planting organisations. I can’t take to the streets but I can shit-talk in tweets.
Recently I’ve discovered a critical area of climate activism that requires even less effort than doing very little: Doing nothing at all. By which I mean I’m buying less shit.
As a species we’ve got ourselves into a bit of a pickle, deciding life should be about the acquisition of stuff. We make pointless shit, sell pointless shit, buy pointless shit and bin pointless shit, filling our houses even as we feel empty inside, hoping the dopamine will hit a little harder the next time we buy something we don’t really need and barely even want. Late-stage consumerism is bad for our souls.
It’s worse for our planet. We cram our pointless shit into container ships and set them off chugging around the world, increasing their traffic – and with it their emissions – by about 400 percent in the last couple of decades. We stuff it into cargo planes, all of it taking resources and energy we can’t afford to waste, all of it pumping out emissions we can’t afford to choke on.
From my base of operations – my bed – I’ve been fighting back, opting out of our cult of consumerism. While it’s a distinct lack of action, not buying stuff, not telling myself I need something I only want, not replacing one thing with another because it’s shinier, not shopping online for something to do, not looking for happiness in a shop window feels like a radical act in a world consumed by consuming stuff.
I’ve been tip-toeing towards this for years, switching from single-use to sustainable materials, reusing stuff instead of ditching it immediately, buying second hand instead of new. But all of that calls for stuff to be made in the first place, even if it goes a little easier on the environment. This feels like a step beyond, thinking deliberately about whether I need a thing at all, whether it’s worth the resources it’ll use, the waste it’ll create, the garbage it’ll emit into our air.
As much as I thought I was switched on to waste and turned off by materialism, in the few months I’ve been doing this deliberately I’ve been stunned to discover how much is left in my bank account. Where before I’d end the month in or on the outskirts of my overdraft, now I’m left with a few hundred quid, even as the cost of living crisis – which is a corporate gouging crisis, incidentally – hits Zero Towers. I can’t account for where that money came from or where it used to go. It was pissed away on nothing lasting.
Something something meaningful platitude
This isn’t about beginning a life of denial in a home that’s empty and spartan and grim. It’s not about denying happiness. And it’s not about buying nothing at all. It’s about backing up to where we were a few decades ago, before our culture of over-consumption went bananas. It’s a recognition that as much I love books I don’t need to buy them at a rate four times faster than I’ll read them, piling them up on floors and windowsills. It’s that as much as I love shiny things with apples on them I don’t need to replace my laptop while it’s working into its eighth year. It’s about working harder to find happiness in something other than material things. It’s about finding relief from climate despair in extracting less from the earth and pumping less shit into the air. It’s about getting something not from stuff but from nothing.
For example, I’ve just got a whole blog post out of absolutely fuck all. Nailed it!