In my last post, I lamented the loss of individual empowerment to take action against climate change. In this post I’m going to talk about how I’ve gone about reducing my consumption of products.

When I teach about technology, I ask my students to consider the impacts and consequences of products throughout their life cycle: not just the use of their product, but its design, development and disposal as well. For example, when I buy a new shirt, I need to think about the time, energy and resources that went into its design, its production, and what will happen when I dispose of it. My new shirt was probably designed by someone in an office somewhere, then sewn together by someone in a south east Asian country who was comparatively underpaid and overworked, using materials or fabrics that came from another factory with workers in similar conditions, then it was transported by ship across the ocean, packaged up in a warehouse in Melbourne or Sydney, then sent to the store, where I bought it. I’ll wear it until it’s looking a little bit old and worn, and then I’ll either donate it (so that someone else can use it), cut it up for dusters, or throw it in the bin, where eventually it ends up in a dump. It’ll take 5 – 10 years to break down, depending on the conditions its in. I paid $30 for the shirt, but it costs a lot more in time, energy and resources over the life of the product, and at each stage, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases may be emitted into our atmosphere as pollution. Without a carbon price, I’m not actually paying for the pollution attributed to my shirt, so essentially, I’m polluting without consequence. (I’m not saying that if a carbon price does come in, we should consume as much as we like though. The mechanism of the carbon price is that particular items cost more, encouraging us to reduce our consumption anyway.)

So one of the things I can do to minimise the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and thus mitigate climate change, is to reduce my consumption of products. Here’s how I do that.

1. I don’t go shopping unless I actually need something.

This will probably horrify a lot of people out there who are committed to shopping as a habitual pastime, but I actually don’t go shopping very often at all. I’ve been twice since Christmas (nearly 4 months), and both times with goals in mind. I really, really, really like new and pretty and shiny things, and I know that when I see them, it’s hard not to want to buy them. So I take the temptation away. I just don’t go shopping. There are lots of other things I find more fun anyway. I try to have experiences rather than things, like going to the park or a cafe to read a book or do a cryptic crossword. I catch up with friends, or go to the beach, or attend plays or shows, or visit the museum or art gallery. Not shopping should save me money in theory, but it doesn’t because I spend it on experiences instead! And those experiences (usually) have a much smaller impact on the environment than constant consumption does.

2. I don’t buy anything unless I actually need it; it must meet a useful purpose.

Don’t really need it? Don’t buy it. You just make it harder for people who want to buy you a unique gift for your birthday anyway! Stuff just sits around gathering dust. I’m not a “stuff” kind of person. Books are a general exception, and we’ll talk about that some more in a few paragraphs.

I have all the things I need to live and to make living worthwhile already. I don’t need the extra basket to hold the toilet paper or the stickers or more than one handbag (two at the outside). I don’t need a second toiletries bag or fifteen towels or a third set of bed sheets. I have enough.

3. I buy clothes which suit me and will last through trends, rather than fashion.

Look. Look. No one who has ever met me is surprised about this. I am the last person who should give fashion advice to anyone. But I do know that because I buy items that are stylish rather than fashionable, they last longer than clothes that conform to the latest trend. Trendy clothes look awful after a couple of months (I mean, c’mon, who on Earth thought the peplum was a good idea even for the one week it was in? Honestly) but my clothes last me  a couple of seasons. And as I’ve already said, I prefer to spend my money on fun experiences instead.

4. I buy digital when I can.

I am so, so glad that the world has now brought us digital music and video. I no longer need to flick through a million CDs (Aaron has his alphabetised, anyway) or DVDs to find the one I want. Everything I want to watch or listen to is in a library on my computer. Nowadays, I can even rent movies or TV shows for less than it was cost in petrol to go and pick it up from a store, and I can listen to music by streaming the radio or using a streaming service, legally (I also never pirate anything. That’s a different post).

As for books, I move between the book app on my tablet and real paper books. Generally these days, unless it’s a book by my favourite authors, I buy ebooks. I already own plenty of books, and I reread them often. Books I don’t reread get donated. Easy.

5. I don’t accept free stuff.

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” I’ve heard, and I think it’s true. Hey, you might really like and use that pen that’s also a ruler and a highlighter that you received from that publisher at that conference in your conference bag (along with a million pieces of paper advertising things you also don’t need), and you might not have paid for it, but it wasn’t free. The publisher paid for it, paid to put it in your bag, put their name in your head and then one day you’ll throw it away and it will sit in a dump for 20 years. That’s not free, that’s just convenient, for you and the publisher.

I didn’t need it, I didn’t ask for it, so I don’t want it. They never put really valuable or useful things in those bags anyway!

Any other ideas for how I could reduce my consumption?