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.

 

Please Don't Feed the Millennials

A few words from good old Google auto-fill to begin the day:

Millennials are lazy

Millennials are the worst

Millennials are doomed

Plug in an S and it gets even better:

 

Stupid

Selfish

Spoiled

Screwed

Apart from the occasional humor - “millennials are changing the wine industry” and truth - “millennials are poor,” every letter of the alphabet feeds you another negative thing that millennials are. But of course, this doesn't come as a surprise to anyone under the age of – what is it, 26, 25? What's the age cut off for the generation who haven't stopped hearing about how lazy, entitled, and selfish we are since we graduated high school? Or there's my personal favorite, that millennials are going to ruin the nation.

These statements and words have become such cultural touchstones to be considered the gospel. The dangerous thing about a blanket statement becoming the gospel is that people begin restating it as fact without evidence. And since my graduation from college, when this issue became of particular interest to me, I haven't found any examples or evidence – aside from the occasional mention of an overly-privileged millennial (which is an issue I will come back to) – that support this claim that has pervaded our national rhetoric so far as to be considered the truth.

What I've seen in the most reliable type of evidence, real life observations, is a generation who are fighting to not even swim, but just stay afloat against a tidal wave of societal circumstances seemingly engineered to fight their success, all while being flat out told that they are the ones with the problems.

Let's take an oft-quoted opinion: “Millennials are lazy,” and a few facts: “There are fewer jobs available for recent college graduates than ever before. The economy is the worst. 50% of millennials are unemployed or underemployed.”

It is routine to hear of someone my age applying for 70 jobs before they even hear back for a first interview. That isn't one person I talked to once on the train, numbers in that range are what you're going to hear from most every young person who has been on the job market lately. And that isn't necessarily applying to 70 jobs that someone wants and then eventually getting one. Oftentimes, that is applying to 70 jobs that one may or may not want, eventually beginning to apply for customer service jobs because we have to pay the bills, applying to 50 more of those, and eventually getting a job as a cashier, secretary, or server.

What about applying for upwards of fifty jobs is lazy? The research? The hours obsessively checking job websites, writing and rewriting cover letters, researching companies, and talking all your skills into a tiny box to fit what a random employer might want? This work not only ends in no pay but frequently in no acknowledgment whatsoever from the job postings. When I applied for 'real jobs,' I was happy to get a rejection letter, because at least it meant that someone was reading what I had sent them, instead of the norm, which was hours and weeks of work going into a void that might as well have been an empty computer in a walled off office building.

For some people, those searches pay off. Some get lucky. Many have a connection through a parent or relative, et al. But some of us don't have the funds to support ourselves while spending eight hours a day applying for these so-called 'real' jobs, or a well-connected adult who can shepherd us in to the working world, so we eventually have to start applying for the category of jobs that the news media calls 'underemployed.' These jobs are generally minimum wage or close to it. Most of them are in the customer service industry.

I'd like to find one person in America who has actually worked a customer service job for their livelihood who would apply the word 'lazy' to it. Is lazy running around on your feet all day, catering to demanding and often rude people who have connotated the word 'server' with the word 'slave?' Is lazy cleaning people's houses? Is lazy driving rotating herds of drunk people around for eight hours of a night? Is lazy having to reapply for temp jobs every other month because no one is hiring for long term?

Anyone who has actually done these things can certainly tell you that no, it actually requires a large amount of energy, stamina, and willpower. To spend four years in an intellectually stimulating environment that preps you for a certain kind of life only to graduate and find that that life is not now, and may never be, available to you, and to put this mindset that you were trained to have to work in a placid, negative environment and try to retrain your brain every single day to accept your new circumstances is not lazy. It may be a fact of modern life that we will have to learn to accept, but it is absolutely not lazy.

Another category of millennials is those who work in unpaid internships while holding down a day job. I would have thought it was obvious that the concept of working for no pay inherently makes one not lazy, but I suppose to our elders this is not clear. I'll illustrate it as such: if you aren't getting paid to do something, why would you do it? A few reasons come to mind: dedication, passion, belief that hard work now will pay off later. None of these are even close to synonymous with 'laziness.' If you go to work at a low paying job for forty hours a week, only to use your precious few hours of time off to do more work for which you receive little to no recognition and certainly no pay, then you might be called crazy by some, too optimistic by others, but lazy only by people who have never tried to live a life like yours for even a day, even a second.

I can't speak for millennials who got jobs through their parents, or who work in unpaid internships while being supported by their families. What I can say is this: it seems silly to blame the young people who were given something great when everyone around them has shit. It's hard to blame someone for being entitled when they were brought up to be that way, perhaps by their parents funding their every move. Sure, a few of those millennials may be selfish, but they are in the minority, and shouldn't we question the adults who trained them to act that way?

Speaking of which, aren't those adults of our parents age the ones calling us lazy and selfish and entitled in the first place? (I will note here since this is on my blog and thus I am allowed personal sidenotes that my parents are excellent, have never called me lazy, selfish, or entitled, have expressed great sympathy for my unfortunate employment situation, and raised me to work hard and take responsibility for my situation) It seems that this generation is the primary group of people who are so keen on blaming the end of everything on this new generation that has barely had enough time to gather the materials to begin to make their mark on the world, let alone had enough time to full out wreck it.

I'm not going to suggest that the baby boomers purposefully engineered a societal movement to blame the problems of the United States on the millennials, but I am going to say that it seems pretty convenient for them when some of the problems we are facing now can actually be traced back to choices that they themselves made.

Let's take the problem of not enough jobs. Not enough jobs? Maybe there aren't enough jobs because there are too many people. Thanks to the knowledge of my man Jonathan Franzen as communicated in his novel Freedom and the subsequent research and readings it led me to, overpopulation is indeed one of the if not the greatest problem facing the world today. Of course overpopulation has much more catastrophic consequences than a lack of jobs for young people, but this is certainly one of the tangential effects.

Why is the United States overpopulated? All these millennials who have come of age and thus need jobs didn't just pop out of thin air. Oh yes, we were birthed by a generation who decided that they could have as many kids as they wanted without regard to the future environmental or socioeconomic affects of their actions. What's a word that one can apply to people who do things in their own self interest without regard for the future consequences? Selfish and entitled, two that are ironically often applied to millennials, are the ones that come to mind.

Is it possible that part of the reason that this generation spends so much time bemoaning ours and claiming that we will be the death of society is that they are trying to cover up the fact that the damage we're supposedly inflicting was already done by their own hand?

It's worth thinking about. Why the rush to blame so many things on a group of people who have barely had time to understand the modern world, much less make it 'doomed'? Shouldn't the attitude towards a group of people who despite their high levels of education are more likely to be serving you food than learning from you at work be sympathy, not derision? It seems it would be smarter to support our generation in the hope that we will gain the strength to fight our nations problems, rather than waste time in what is effectively talking shit. Extremely well publicized and funded shit talking, but shit talking none the less.

Honestly though, I'm not that worried about being a millennial, and I'm not going to spend any of my precious non working hours considering how we are doomed or how we are going to be the death of the nation.

Instead, I'm going to use my customer service job to learn how to deal with frustrating humans, befriend people from different backgrounds, and work so hard that no one can ever call me lazy to my face. And in my free time, instead of waiting for someone from the last generation to teach me how to do things their way, I'm going to write essays and stories and create things and ideas and communities that help me find my own branch of what I define as success, instead of going by the arbitrary and clearly ineffective parameters set by those before us. The reason I'm not afraid for my generation is that I know I'm not alone in this.

All around me I see people willing to work for no pay for causes they believe in.  People going to law school to challenge societal inequality, teaching in low income neighborhoods to try and provide better opportunities for the next generation instead of claiming they're screwed from the get go. People drive for Lyft or Sidecar during the night and build websites that help them realize their dreams during the day. I'm a lucky member of a herd of buffalo who got four years training in making something incredible out of bare bones material and challenging the problems with the patriarchy and society. I don't have any fears about my peers in my generation, because we've all already figured out the solution to this 'millennial problem' – our identity is no longer tied to the jobs that we can't get. We work hard at the jobs we can get, and then we go home and apply ourselves doubly to the real work, the work that is going to prove to those who have been wasting time predicting our demise that we're not selfish or lazy, and certainly not doomed.