Consumers Need 12-Step Programs Too: My Counseling Session with Mother Earth

We are all wasteful consumers. I am, and unless you live naked in the woods eating only the nuts and berries you find and walked to your local library to read this post – you likely are too.

It wasn’t always this way. For millions of years, humans lived in harmony with the planet – only using the renewable resources needed to survive. No waste. No ills on the environment.

Not us. Our “advanced” modern family typically boasts:

– a 2,000 sq. ft. home  made with tons of non-renewable materials

– two cars and a recreational vehicle or two

– enough clothes to suit the neighborhood

– food packaged in multiple layers of non-biodegradable plastic or aluminum

– the average U.S. CO2 emissions per person, is 20 metric tons, compared to a world average of four tons

– TV’s, phones, computers, stereos, appliances, light fixtures, furniture – all replaced every few years…

This is all stuff that is not going to disappear or biodegrade. Advertising, peers, and our governments encourage this wastefulness from the moment we are born. Our entire economy depends on it. But infinite use of finite resources is not a sustainable economic, societal, or planetary model. Tens of billions of wasteful, consumer-driven humans perpetually living the same as Americans do for generation after generation equals a catastrophic collapse in the not too distant future.

Does anyone doubt that we’ve taken this consumer thing way too far? If so, do a Google image search for Pacific trash vortex (there is a growing ring of trash the size of Alaska in the Pacific Ocean as many countries just dump their trash in the water), watch “The Story of Stuff“, take a look at some of these pictures, or head on down to your nearest friendly local landfill for your next Sunday picnic.


Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you and myself, lets move on to something a bit more constructive…

Consumerist Anonymous

I’ve always had strong inclinations to doing what’s right for the environment and have even dedicated an entire section of the site to cost savings that also help diminish your impact on the environment. However, I’ve never pieced it all together and made it a way of life. I’ve fallen off the wagon many times.

So I decided to express my heartfelt regret over past purchasing habits via a virtual apology/counseling session with Mother Earth and go public with it. It serves as the first step of my recovery as a mindless consumer. This is not tongue-in-cheek. These are real sentiments. And since this is a safe place. I’d encourage you to share your thoughts with the group as well. Who knows, you might just save some serious cash as a side effect.

My Chat with Mother Earth:

  • Me: Mother Earth, please forgive me. I’m a recovering consumer. I’ve spent tens, hundreds (if you include my home) of thousands of dollars on stuff. Stuff that will all likely end up in a landfill or in the oceans somewhere. And despite all the hurt it has caused others (namely wildlife, you, and future generations of humans), I’ve continued to do so. I’m sorry. It’s inexcusable. It’s senseless. But I’m trying to get better. I want to get better.
  • Mother Earth: My son, taking responsibility and desire to change is the first step towards the healing process. Have you tried quitting cold (non-refrigerated) turkey?
  • Me: I don’t even think that is possible anymore. I wouldn’t know where to get food, clean water, shelter, or do anything without modern technologies.
  • Mother Earth: What about moving to one of those remote islands or in the middle of the Amazon to try to infiltrate with one of the last remaining tribes that live in harmony with me before they are overtaken by your tribe of consumers?
  • Me: I don’t think they’d take me. I don’t know how to hunt, build a shelter, cook from scratch, or even start a fire without modern tools. And I hate mosquitoes.
  • Mother Earth: Yeah, you are pretty useless… err… I mean, you’re probably right…. hmm…. well, why don’t we start by discussing the things you CAN change in the short term to wean yourself off of this consumer addiction.
  • Me: OK.
  • Mother Earth: What makes you happy?
  • Me: Well, I recently posted a list of the top 10 things money can buy that made me happy.
  • Mother Earth: I see. Well, I don’t see ‘stuff’ or ‘toys’ on that list. I see food, drink, and shelter – but those are necessary for survival. Even tribal folks need those things.
  • Me: Yeah, you’re right. Even though I’m addicted to consuming things… that consumption doesn’t really make me any happier over the long term. The short-term thrill wears out quickly.
  • Mother Earth: Stuff doesn’t lead to your happiness. That’s an important insight. What about those necessary things like food and shelter? How can you consume less in those areas?
  • Me: Well, I suppose I could put in a garden and start growing more of my own food. I could raise some chickens (my city just started allowing that). I could buy a share in a CSA – they grow and box up locally grown veggies and fruits that I can pick up. I could even start a produce share in my neighborhood. And I should also be more careful to buy only food that comes in renewable, recycled, or biodegradable packaging.
  • Mother Earth: And let’s not forget buying stuff in season. A lot of food out of season travels thousands of miles to get to your local grocery store.
  • Me: Yeah. I guess I could go without bananas.
  • Mother Earth: Yes, you could. And drink?
  • Me: Well, I mostly drink tap water. Tap water is cheaper than bottled water by a factor of over 2,000X, so that’s a no-brainer. And I buy beer from local microbreweries and wine made in my state.
  • Mother Earth: That’s a start. You could also homebrew more and make your own wine to cut down on transportation and material waste. Or, just don’t drink at all. We’ll save that discussion for another day. Now that we have food covered, let’s chat about shelter.
  • Me: I live in an older home right now. It’s ‘only’ 1,000 sq. ft. with a basement. Small by U.S. standards, but much more space than I really need, especially since I have been selling stuff on craigslist like mad. But I’m thinking some day I want to build move into a tiny home that is much less maintenance and much more energy efficient.
  • Mother Earth: Good. If you do build, just make sure you used reclaimed materials to do so. And don’t add to urban sprawl. Find an old urban lot.
  • Me: I will.
  • Mother Earth: The only other necessity I can think of is clothing.
  • Me: Yeah. That’s a problem. I’ve bought way more than I could ever wear. And the stuff I do wear usually wears out rather quickly. I have been donating a lot of it lately, so at least there’s that.
  • Mother Earth: I’d also recommend opting for durable, locally made fabrics, when possible. It’s better to have a few high quality clothes than many cheaply made pieces flown in from China. And don’t forget to repair or re-purpose things when possible. That pair of jeans you have with the hole in the crotch can be fixed.
  • Me: Yeah, I was about to throw ‘ole blue’ away. Good call.
  • Mother Earth: What else is left?
  • Me: It’s mostly just “stuff” after that. Stuff I use to make my life easier.
  • Mother Earth: Does it make your life easier?
  • Me: Well, it mostly does.
  • Mother Earth: If you sold most of your “stuff” would your life be harder?
  • Me: Hmm… Now that I think about it… probably not.
  • Mother Earth: Exactly. All that stuff pulls at you. It requires maintenance, storage, fixing, replacing… you get the idea. And for the stuff you really do need, I can guarantee you can buy it used locally for much cheaper and repair it if it does break. With Craigslist, Freecycle, and borrowing from neighbors – there is really no durable good you should have to buy new.  To free yourself from most of it will be liberating – those tribal folks only take what they can carry on their back when they move. Make that your goal.
  • Me: I’ve got a lot of work to do.
  • Mother Earth: Yes, but it should be rewarding work. Also, don’t get caught up in technological “advancement”. Yes, Blu-Ray looks great, but your DVD collection is just fine and would cost a boatload to replace. Your goal should be to make the existing technology last as long as it possibly can. And don’t buy any new technology. Remember the happiness thing we discussed. Happiness derived from these products is fleeting, at best.
  • Me: Yeah… but cassette tapes sucked.
  • Mother Earth: Yes. Yes, they did. Anyhow… you get the idea. Make sure that for everything you get rid of, you either sell it, give it away for free, or donate it. To do so means that someone else will get use from it and they in turn will hopefully be as responsible as you. This keep things out of the landfill. And whenever you purchase something envision that item ultimately ending up in the landfill or floating around in the ocean for some marine animal to choke on. Or what if you had to throw that stuff in your back yard? Just because it’s no longer in your presence does not mean it has disappeared or vanished into thin air. Waste “management” is the only thing keeping this consumer runaway train on the tracks as it blinds everyone to the reality of how wasteful we really are.
  • Me: Yeah. That’s not a pleasant thought. But it is reality, I suppose.
  • Mother Earth: Let’s talk about cars.
  • Me: I sold mine and bike to work!
  • Mother Earth: That’s great. But, you still have one that you share. And it’s getting old.
  • Me: Indeed. 12 years and 180K miles. I’ve done my part, right?
  • Mother Earth: No other invention has hurt me more.
  • Me: Aye.
  • Mother Earth: Stay close to work and keep riding your bike. Hopefully your wife can work closer to home and do the same someday. In the meantime, ride that piece of crap until it begs for mercy. Then fix it and ride it some more. And if you ABSOLUTELY (and I really mean absolutely) must replace it, replace it with the most fuel efficient used vehicle you can find.
  • Me: Having no car might create some inconveniences.
  • Mother Earth: $60 and increasing fuel-ups, insurance, maintenance, accidents, flat tires, and allocating 10%+ of your paycheck to leasing or paying it off creates a few inconveniences as well.
  • Me: When you put it that way…
  • Mother Earth: And finally – spread the words that we are sharing here today. Make it your lifestyle. Embrace it. And then go out and be a role model for others. Not only will you save a TON of money, but you will liberate yourself from stuff and be living a happier, healthier life. You will be joining a counter-consumer movement that is gaining strength. It’s a movement that will have to be adopted by everyone if your kind and every other species you share me with are to survive. Along the way you will encounter soul-less, heart-less, hateful f$%rs who claim no responsibility for their behavior. Be patient, teach, and stay on course.
  • Me: I will start today. My apologies cannot express the amount of regret I have about how irresponsibly I have lived. Thank you for the life and the health you have given me. I owe it to you. We all do.

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