Consumers, Climate Change, and Does it Make it Better that I Bought it Local?

As anyone who has spoken to me in the last month or every pays attention to my social media preference knows, Becca Schuh read a really depressing environment book this month.

Now to the casual observer, it might seem like I didn't know climate change was a thing until I read said book, This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. This is, obviously, false. To not generally know about climate change in this day and age probably means you're either a climate change denier or have been living in a hut in the woods, which is actually probably a great place to live considering the upcoming disasters.

But it is definitely true to say that I did not at all realize the crazy extent to which climate change has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen throughout our lifetimes due to the nature of carbon emissions, which is that they take literally years to affect the environment. AKA, similarly to what happened when AIDS became a thing, we are all idiots because we have all the information we need but are not doing anything to stop a giant catastrophe.

However, I will get back to that when I am famous and people will actually listen to me. Not that it did AIDS any good when Elton fucking John wrote an entire book about how we have all the tools to solve it but aren't because of the man, but a girl can dream.

Sparing you the technical jargon (which I'm sure most of you are more fluent in than I am, don't get me wrong,) one of the largest things we would have to change to actually do anything about the environment (aside from The Big One, overthrowing the man) is to drastically reduce the ways in which we consume. Which is to say, we'd have to consume a whole lot less.

Sounds easy in theory. Eat less! Eat out less! Buy less things! Drive less! Buy local! Especially when you're your average local buying liberal, these things don't seem that hard to manifest. I already walk to work, and if dear old Desmond kicks the bucket (we actually can't talk about that though I might cry) I probably won't have to get a new car for quite a while, if ever. Even though I love food, I already pretty much snack for all my meals and when I eat out I save everything to create four meals out of one. I still buy a lot of things, but I do a good 80% of my shopping at local stores, except for things that can't be found locally like carriers for the ladies, aka the stupid giant bras I have to special order online.

These are all the things I told myself.

But then I came back to my regular vantage point: waitress at restaurant where the platters of food are the size of my torso, as a man once pointed out to me by literally touching my stomach. Person who likes new underwear and for the bookcase to be delivered to my door so I don't have to borrow someone's car to get it from the store. Person to whom a great day constitutes a trip (by car, no less) to the used bookstore and the local boutique and alas, the mall because they don't sell restaurant shoes at the bougie shoe shop in North Park. Person who is an academic with a brain who realizes, that despite all her efforts to the contrary, consumption is a habit, and consumption is consumption, no matter how it manifests.

Obviously, we have to consume on some level. And it's definitely true that the large scale shifts that Klein suggest in This Changes Everything could be brought on and helped if everyone, especially the rich and powerful white men, shifted their consumption from investing in oil companies to investing in local economies.

These things were on my mind as I walked to the coffee shop today. And then I got distracted because my shitty headphones fell out of my ears once again, and I thought to myself, I'm making money now, I can buy myself a nice pair of headphones. And then I stopped at the adorable Hillcrest newsstand shop that actually carries both art magazines and literary magazines, dying breeds that I treasure, and picked up one of each. I was thirsty slash hungover so I also got, alas, a bottled water. I told myself that I'd reuse this one and also invest my newfound capital in a nice water bottle that I won't lose the second I bring it to the gym. I should probably also invest in a nice pair of sunglasses while I'm at it, I thought to myself.

I got to the coffee shop, and got a coffee that I would end up only drinking half of because I know now that too much caffeine produces similar anxiety to having to speak to the same human for several weeks, which, those who have been around me recently know, is a lot. I also got a sandwich, which again, I only ate half of, reasoning that this was okay because eating when you aren't hungry is bad and my health is more important than eating the whole sandwich out of obligation, and I'll take the damn sandwich home and eat it for a snack later.

What I mean to say by all this is, of course, is that it's complicated.

I've never been that attached to money, but now I have some of it. And the thing that happens to people who aren't attached to money is that they want to spend it. In fact, people who don't have money also want to spend it. That's what our culture has done to us. But is it inherently bad to want things, when we need some things to survive?

I don't think it's inherently bad to want things. But I do think that the extreme to which we've taken things as a culture is worse than inherently bad, it's abominable, it's going to murder the planet before we have time to come to our senses.

And if I were a different person, I would say that we should just stop it all now. But I think we all know that although that could work, it won't happen, re: the patriarchy and the oil, but also re: the privilege that has been lurking around everything I've written in this essay.

Because you can't tell a lady who has three kids to not drive to work. You can't tell a developing nation to not build a factory, when they're also told the only way to progress is to emulate the nations who run on....factories. You can't tell the young black man to not buy a new fancy car because you're the society who told him that a fancy car is what would make him be taken seriously. You can't tell the poor teenager to stop shopping at the cheap stores at the mall when she's told by society that she has to dress a certain way to be considered a woman. You especially can't do that when it took you 23 years and waiting tables at the busiest brunch place in your city to stop shopping at the damn mall and start buying clothes from local stores and you just yesterday filled up literally a suitcase with the Forever 21 shirts you accumulated in college.

What that we buy do we need? What that we buy do we buy because we think that we need it because our culture has convinced us that status symbols are as important as food and water in order to imbed consumerist culture and the desire for growth at any cost so deep in our blood that we're drowning in it? Is it okay for me to buy fancy headphones because at the end of the day the desire to not hear other people talk after listening to strangers bark at you for eight hours feels like closer to a need than my actual need to put food in my mouth? If I'm using them to listen to female artists, and try to bring them more cultural voice, does that help?

The best gift I've ever been given was the privilege to attend my wonderful undergraduate institution, and among the array of gifts within that gift was the idea of intersectionality and the ability to live it in practice by creating my own degree.  I called it Navigating Craft, but if I had to explain it now I would say something along the lines of 'writing about ideas, social, political, cultural, writing to help me understand the world, writing to hopefully one day help other people understand it too, from a place of humility, thoughtfulness, and humor.  I write to shift the paradigm, whether it be my own or the societal paradigm that has gridlocked into, literally earth shattering consumption.'  

Because I don't know how to answer the questions I posed in the penultimate paragraph.  But I know that I should have said something when a male customer felt it was appropriate to touch my body in reference to commenting on the size of the plates my restaurant serves food on.  I know that it was okay to stop working on my writing to talk to my good friend about the state of internet writing and how we think that both style and content are indispensable when creating art.   I know that my greatest gift other than and alongside my education is my friends, who will agree when I say in a joking yet serious tone that just maybe we are the ones who can start the revolution.  Or, a revolution.  (You know the joke.)  But I know that it has to do with shifting the paradigm, and I know that all I can do now is take the next step, as Adam so eloquently said (by which I mean Jenni Konner/Lena Dunham so eloquently wrote) on the last episode of Girls, "to the next step in a series of random steps." 

And as long as with each and every step I'm fighting the patriarchy, fighting for women and people of color and whatever the politically correct acronym is these days for the sexuality spectrum, and for these voices to be heard, and when I have to consume things trying to consume things that empower women, people of color, and local economies, then maybe these random steps will lead me to a place where I can actually help the environment in ways grander than walking to work.