August 18, 2015

The end of consumerism might save the world. Credit: r. nial bradshaw / Flickr Creative Commons

The beating heart of the U.S. economy can be summed up simply: Americans buy stuff. Sometimes stuff they need, but often not. In fact, Americans spend more than $2 trillion just at shopping centers every year.

Environmentalist Paul Gilding wants to start a conversation about how many of the things we buy are absolutely necessary. 

“It’s important to say this isn’t a judgmental thing about, ‘We’re bad, we’re consuming too much stuff, we should suffer and we should go without,” Gilding says.

”It’s just asking the question, ‘What makes you happy? What really makes you feel as though you’re having a better life? What gives you satisfaction?’”

Gilding says we haven’t always been so focused on buying things we don’t need. “It’s actually really post-World War II we started behaving like this. So, it’s not normal for us to do this in history.”

The End of The Shopping Spree?

We will eventually give up our consumerist ways, Gilding believes. “I’m not saying we’re going to voluntarily decide that consumerism is a bad idea and change our culture because it’s a nice idea. We’re going to be forced to change.”

Why? Gilding says the effects of climate change will make us reckon with how much we buy. He lays out his idea in “The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World”.

Concern about climate change is gaining more and more momentum. Earlier this month at the White House, President Obama laid out his plan to fight climate change. He says he’s convinced “that no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a changing climate.”

A New Economy

What will be the catalyzing event to shock us out of our spending?

“We are going to see some very severe global food crisis coming in the next decade directly linked to climate change as a result of emissions,” Gilding says.

As shopping habits are cut, the economy will be forced to adjust as well. Gilding envisions a tax system that targets consumption instead of income.

The way products are designed will also change. Gilding wants to see a “circular” economy where products are 100 percent recyclable.

One lingering question in the post-consumerist society: what will become of the nearly 110,000 shopping centers that dot the American landscape?

Funding for Innovation Hub's environmental and sustainability reporting is provided by The Kendeda Fund: furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

innovation hub, Kara Miller, ihub, Sci and Tech

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