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Nov 252009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

I’d be a hypocrite if I advocated without qualification for Buy Nothing Day (this Friday in the U.S. and Saturday internationally). For one, I just finished compiling and editing some green gift lists.

Granted, this consumer boycott being advocated by AdBusters has great appeal. It says “no” to what has become an embarrassing grab-fest of shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

A "Buy Nothing" demonstrator in Manila

A "Buy Nothing" demonstrator in Manila

I like the concept of the boycott: Send a message to those corporations that want to hijack your wallet this holiday season. Refuse to shop. It makes a lot of sense. We really do need to cool it on the consumerism to help re-chill our warming planet. It’s painfully obvious now that our rabid consumption of limited natural resources coupled with our willingness to trash stuff is destroying our planet. Here in the U.S., we’ve got a TV or computer in every room in many households, and they’ll be in the landfill soon because tech wizards come up with the next generation of electronics about 28 minutes after we’ve purchased the first. We’ve got food, and clothing and houses large enough to sustain multiple families. And it’s not just us. Asia’s got a taste for luxury. Sharks are being killed for their fins. Coal pollution is encircling the globe thanks to the two biggest polluters, the U.S. and China.

So before I explain why I don’t see a boycott of Black Friday as an effective solution, let me make one thing clear: Less stuff — it’s a great idea. We need more time with our kids. More time outdoors. More reflection, more sharing, more recycling, more book reading (would that be on a Kindle or on paper?). We need to cook food “from scratch”; visit with our neighbors and install community gardens. But we don’t need more things.

We don’t need shopping as entertainment. And we don’t need to be brand slaves (check out the cute protesting “brand zombies” on Ad Busters).

That said, I confess, I am a home improvement junkie. Give me $25 and I’ll find a project. I’ll buy paint or varnish or plants or fabric and try to “improve” something.  And I’m a parent. I have a strong urge to give my kids a few magical moments, some of which involve gifts, many of which I will buy.

So here’s the problem with trying to stop the buying on Black Friday.  I don’t think it will work. But more important, consumers sometimes can find a darn good deal on Black Friday. Yes, the frenzy, the 4 a.m. openings, the loud advertisements, the bait-and-switch enticements, that’s all quite annoying and sometimes leads us to spend more than we should. But should we ask financially strapped people to skip the deals that could leave them with a little more cash on hand? Amid the hype, they might just get just what they need, for less than they would next week.

I’m not a marketing analyst. Maybe the best deals are to come. And maybe all the focus on this one day really does jack up our consumption, as those who do analyze these things have noted. But here’s an alternative solution: Let’s resist spending more than we should. Let’s act like adults. Don’t stampede anyone at the door. In fact, don’t even get up early and don’t stay out late. Pay cash if you have to make a point with yourself. Even better, make a holiday budget. Make a pact with your spouse, not your credit card.

If you want to add a little social consciousness to your shopping, look for the labels that count. Fair Trade goods assure you they come from socially responsible sources. Organic labels help say “no” to pesticides. Recycled products are a nice way to show you want to live more lightly. Non-toxic cosmetics and bath goods help tamp down the chemical creep, and they’re healthier for your recipients (go to your local natural market to find them.) Give the gift of nature by donating to a group that supports conservation or helps sustain communities in fragile ecosystems around the world. (There’s the World Wildlife Fund, Heifer International, Natural Resources Defense Fund, Habitat for Humanity and many more.) Spread the wealth by buying from artisans in developing nations. Give a gift of energy security with a gift basket of CFLs and a cute draft stopper to help someone cut their energy bills. (Yes, I’m that much of a geek, and I’ve got the solar tube I gave my husband for the holidays to prove it.)

And remember child labor practices. That is, put your kids to work on homemade gifts. Cookies, hot cocoa mixes, picture frames, all these come with extra love and help parents and kids spend time together. Want to get a little greener? Make a bird feeder or a seed bagel for someone’s backyard. Concoct a mix of wildflower seeds and package it with a bow. Older kids can give pledges, like the pledge to make a meal or visit a nursing home or help in the garden or at the local food pantry.

I’d like to think that we can hold onto the gift giving — but ditch the irresponsible behavior. Give a gift that really means something — I know your mom’s been telling you this for years. Use  the opportunity to remember what it is we truly cherish — the people we love and our home, planet Earth.

And if you want to buy nothing or  join a demonstration against rampant consumerism, go for it. Good luck and Happy Holidays!

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media