16 February 2015

Please don't reward people with "stuff"!

I expect you've noticed that green is the new black. Recently I read an Australian home and garden type magazine, and every house boasted its eco-credentials. I'm a sucker for a gorgeous house, but most were about three times as big as they needed to be, and massively overglazed, but hey, there was the odd recycled brick wall and some lofty insulation, so the eco box was perfunctorily ticked.

Anna's school is on trend and all-for-eco, and have a new environmental scheme the children can participate in. These schemes are great! But sometimes I think that the importance of not rewarding children or adults with "stuff" gets lost. There's little appeal to "not having", of course.

When the school children have done enough nude-fooding, walking to school and gardening - among other admirable things promoted by the scheme - they can purchase a badge and a T shirt to show off their achievements. I wonder where the badge and T shirt come from, and where will they be in five years' time?

A random sample of the stuff littering Anna's room.
Yes, she loves it all, and no, we do not need any more!
Note the restored art deco dressing table: t's not in my "stuff" category.
They will probably have come from China, in a factory that pours pollution into a river, and produced by near-slave labour. (The same goes for almost everything in Farmers, Briscoes, the Warehouse, Kathmandu.... etc.) In a year or two most of them will be in the dump.

There is no paying market, of course, for the true eco-mantras: Make do with what you have, and Stop buying Stuff! Most humans since the dawn of time have forcibly lived with those values; they have had no other choice. Now, quite suddenly really, we can update our wardrobes and houses with cheap crap every year or two. Just don't think too hard about how and where the crap was made, or it will be tinged with ugliness.

When my mother was born in the late 1930s, there were just over 2 billion people in the world. When Jack was born 11 years ago, there were 6 billion. Now there are 7 billion. I can't even conceive of one billion people, but I know they all like lovely stuff. What will it cost the planet to supply it, and where will it go when it's disposed of?

I think we need to be extremely choosy about what we buy.

Here's a call for creativity. How could the children be rewarded for their environmental achievements without giving them something that undermines those achievements? Anna scoffed at my suggestion of swan plants grown in home-made compost. A lunch-time sushi-making class, perhaps? An afternoon of making puppets, or a parkour lesson? A packet of seeds?

Beginners' parkour. No stuff required. 
(If you haven't spent twenty well-entertained minutes watching the 'Story of Stuff' video before, I totally recommend clicking here to watch it!)

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