'Buy Nothing Day' sounds like a good theory, but...

November 24, 1999|By Dennis Shaw

It's a good thing I'm not paranoid. Otherwise I'd start thinking the environmentalists are out to get me.

This would be unfortunate, since I consider myself an environmentalist, and I'm not sure how I could handle that dilemma.

cont. from lifestyle

My concern about the green peril arose a couple of years ago when I read about another new twist in the ongoing efforts to save our planet from ecological destruction. This approach is called "Buy Nothing Day."

The theory behind "Buy Nothing Day" is that we Americans, who seem to consider shopping to be our patriotic duty, are simply consuming too much.

Everything we buy, the theory goes, has unseen environmental costs built into it. I can pick almost any item at random and discover that there has been some adverse effect on the environment in producing it or getting it to me.


For example, take the shirt I'm wearing, which is part synthetic fabric and part cotton. The synthetic fabric is made from petroleum, which conjures up images of oil spills and smoke belching out of refineries, polluting the air. The cotton may sound natural, but most cotton production requires huge amounts of pesticides, as well as using land that used to support native wildlife.

The paper I'm writing this column on used to be part of a tree, and it was probably bleached by using chlorine or other chemicals that can be toxic to the environment.

The electric light I'm using to see the paper is produced by burning coal, oil or nuclear fuel, all of which have an adverse impact on the natural world. And on and on and on ....

Not only that, but the more things I buy or use, the more trash I end up throwing away, taking up landfill space. The environmentalists say that every day I throw away three or four pounds of trash and use or destroy more than 100 pounds of the Earth's natural resources to support my shopping habit.

I know they mean that "an average American" does that, not Dennis Shaw in particular. So I don't think they're singling me out for criticism there.

But what gets me worried is that they picked one day of the year and called it "Buy Nothing Day." They hope that we spendthrift Americans actually will spend one whole day without buying anything. Not only will it cut consumption for that one day, they figure, but it will make us more aware of how much we actually buy and maybe shop less in the future.

Now I admit that sounds like a good idea. But what gets me mad is that they picked the day before my birthday! I was born Nov. 28, and "Buy Nothing Day" last year was Nov. 27. This year it was Nov. 26, but that's still too close for comfort. It really seems as if they're out to get me.

They claim that what they're really picking is the day after Thanksgiving, which launches the Christmas shopping season and is the busiest shopping day of the year. I guess I can buy that for an explanation. But I'm going to be annoyed if many of my friends call me today and say, "I would have bought you a present, but I knew you'd want me to observe 'Buy Nothing Day,' so I couldn't."

Dennis Shaw is a former Herald-Mail editor. Write him at 12364 Harvey Road, Clear Spring, Md. 21722.

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