By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.
Last week I went to get two of my favorite shoes repaired for the warmer weather. One was a pair of Birkenstocks sandals, essentially the only shoes I wear in the summer, and the other my beloved Hush Puppies Mary Janes that tie in a bow, well worth a trip to the cobbler.
When I asked the attendant how much it would cost for the repairs, he said the rate was $70, for each pair. Meaning, it would be cheaper to replace both pairs of shoes than repair them. I had a mini-tizzy in the shop before getting a gruff, “good bye,” from the man at the counter.
I remembered the first time I encountered this trap intrinsic to contemporary consumer culture. I had a Navy pea coat that I loved, perhaps too well. By the second winter of wear, the coat needed a considerable amount of repairs. I took my coat to the neighborhood seamstress, only to be told to “just get a new coat” because repairs would cost more than $100. “But I have a coat; I don’t need a new coat” I futilely explained. Ultimately, I did throw away my pea coat. I can sew. I could have made the effort, but I didn’t.
This conundrum reminds me of Anthony Burgess’ essay “Is America Falling Apart?”
In it, Burgess claims, “Americans are at last realizing that the acquisition of goods is not the whole of life. Consumption, on one level, is turning insipid, especially as the quality of the goods seems to be deteriorating, planned obsolescence is not conducive to pride in workmanship. On another level, consumption is turning sour. There is a growing guilt about the masses of discarded junk—rusting automobiles and refrigerators and washing machines and dehumidifiers—that it is uneconomical to recycle. Indestructible plastic hasn’t even the grace to undergo chemical change. America, the world’s biggest consumer, is the world’s biggest polluter. Awareness of this is a kind of redemptive grace, but it has not led to repentance and a revolution in consumer habits.”
Words written in 1971, before I even entered the scene of conspicuous consumption.
21st century life is convenient and comfortable in boundless ways, but also encourages waste and breeds a habitual indolence, which is why Earth Day is necessary.
This is not a call for guilt. Rather, we ought to channel the positive Earth Day emotion to asking questions about our choices and the impact they have on the planet. What is required is an honest assessment of what makes living a “green” lifestyle challenging, and determining to meet the task with an improved commitment.
As such, throughout 2014, I’ll celebrate Earth Day as I endeavor to become a better and “greener” consumer. Luckily, I’ll have help from agencies and organizations dedicated to protecting the environment.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle tips from United States Environmental Protection Agency.
National Geographic provides helps simplify major purchases with their “Green Buying Guide”
Here are Environmental Ratings of Household Tissue Paper Products from Greenpeace (so important not to flush away forests!)
Other shopping choices can have a positive, rather than negative impact on our communities and the world. The “10 Ways to be a Locavore” list from PBS offers the necessary encouragement to make small changes, rather than expect to transition to a completely new lifestyle.
Earth Day provides a reminder to celebrate the vast splendors of earth, and to follow her example, and begin anew.