What your pre-ripped jeans say about your en­vi­ron­men­tal views

It’s time to teach your kids that ‘dis­pos­able’ is a bad word

Bayview Post - - Currents -

My par­ents mar­ried dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion. After the 1929 mar­ket col­lapse, peo­ple had to learn to make do, help each other out and live on mea­gre in­comes. Those times were seared into my par­ents’ at­ti­tudes and val­ues.

Although we were all born and raised in Canada, my fam­ily was seen as the en­emy dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. Be­cause of our Ja­panese eth­nic­ity, the govern­ment con­fis­cated our prop­erty and in­car­cer­ated us in camps deep in the Rock­ies. When the war ended, we were shipped to On­tario where my par­ents worked as farm labour­ers. Win­ters were cold, and I needed a coat, which they bought with their lim­ited re­sources. I was in a growth spurt and quickly out­grew it, so they passed it on to my twin sis­ter. Half a year later, she had out­grown it so our younger sis­ter in­her­ited it. For years, my par­ents boasted, “This coat was so well-made, it lasted through three chil­dren!”

Dura­bil­ity was a prized at­tribute of cloth­ing and other prod­ucts. What’s hap­pened since? Would a child to­day hap­pily wear a wellused hand-me-down? How many par­ents even think of pass­ing cloth­ing on that way?

War pulled the North Amer­i­can econ­omy out of the dol­drums, but as it was draw­ing to an end, politi­cians wor­ried about how to tran­si­tion a war econ­omy to peace­time. The an­swer was de­liv­ered by the pres­i­dent’s eco­nomic ad­vis­ers: Get Amer­i­cans to wor­ship at the al­tar of con­sump­tion, they ad­vised, so they buy things, use them and buy more. It worked. To­day, 70 per cent of the Amer­i­can econ­omy is based on con­sumer goods.

To max­i­mize con­sump­tion, busi­nesses mar­ket prod­ucts to all pos­si­ble con­sumers in­clud­ing chil­dren and se­niors.

Ev­ery­thing we con­sume comes from the Earth and goes back to it. Our home is the bio­sphere, the zone of air, wa­ter and land where all life ex­ists. Many “re­sources” we ex­ploit — air, wa­ter, soil, trees, fish — cleanse and re­plen­ish them­selves. If we use them care­fully, we can live in bal­ance. But ex­plo­sive growth in pop­u­la­tion, con­sump­tion and the econ­omy re­sult in over­ex­ploita­tion and de­struc­tion, un­der­min­ing the planet’s life-sup­port sys­tems.

In a time of en­vi­ron­men­tal cri­sis, the most ob­scene word in our lan­guage is “dis­pos­able.” Dis­pos­abil­ity im­plies that some­thing we’ve fin­ished us­ing dis­ap­pears. In the bio­sphere, noth­ing goes away or dis­ap­pears. Ev­ery­thing ends up some­where.

Cloth­ing is some­thing we wear to cover up and keep us warm in cold weather and cool in hot. But ap­peal­ing to peo­ple’s thirst for nov­elty cloth­ing epit­o­mizes dis­pos­abil­ity. Few things flaunt dis­re­gard for the en­vi­ron­ment more than proudly wear­ing pre-ripped jeans cost­ing hun­dreds of dol­lars. Those jeans are a trib­ute to the need to push un­nec­es­sary prod­uct onto eas­ily ma­nip­u­lated con­sumers.

The planet is over­run with an in­sa­tiable preda­tor, hu­mankind. As we run out of places to dump our waste, cities are re­duc­ing the waste stream by ban­ning dis­pos­ables such as plas­tic dish­ware, cut­lery and bags. This is a first step to­wards re­ex­am­in­ing our un­sus­tain­able ways and re­dis­cov­er­ing val­ues of fru­gal­ity and thought­ful­ness about our place on Earth. Let’s start by teach­ing our chil­dren that “dis­pos­able” is a bad word.

Ap­peal­ing to peo­ple’s thirst for trendy fast fashion epit­o­mizes dis­pos­abil­ity

DAVID SUZUKI

David Suzuki is the host of the CBC’s The Na­ture of Things and au­thor of more than 30 books on ecol­ogy.

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