Marolt: Saving the planet one indulgence at a time
August 13, 2013
They say less is more these days, and, of course, they are talking about saving the world. I have come to the conclusion that "they" might be Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart and Costco. The idea is to buy as little as you need in order to conserve Earth's resources by keeping our landfills and Alaskan backyards from overflowing with junk. The subliminal chorus is "no conspicuous consumption," and this has trained us to believe that "less" equals "frugality," but, if you get what you need at the lowest price from a regular-folks big-box discounter, most likely it will wear out quickly, break almost immediately or never serve its purpose very well to begin with so that you will have to throw it out very shortly after you buy it and will then, ironically, need more. Yes, I think it's a conspiracy.
I know people who have decided that the best way to keep our skies clear and water pure is to never buy anything new. The assumption is that used stuff is headed for the dump, so if you buy it, you are prolonging its life and eliminating environmentally unfriendly manufacturing jobs here in the U.S., where our workers need to learn high-tech and service skills anyway, or in China, where starving kids will be better off unemployed.
I don't think it necessarily works out this way, though. We might think that when we buy a pre-owned product, the person selling it has completely used it all that they can or intend to or, if we don't buy it, it's going in the trash can. But I'm not sure that's the case with most used stuff worth selling. I mean, why are they selling it? My guess is that most people sell used stuff so that they can justify buying new stuff. Do you see what I'm getting at? By buying people's used stuff, we actually are giving them incentive and the means to buy more.
Thinking about this got me to thinking about a better way to preserve the planet. As funny as it sounds, I think the best way to do it might be very nearly the opposite of what we have been told to do. Think big, not small, and remember that bigger is usually more expensive.
Here's my theory: Instead of cutting corners to keep the polar ice caps from melting, if you get decadent, you most likely will use less. Always choose the most expensive, highest-quality option available that you can afford. Note: This theory does not apply if you are filthy rich and use the Gucci store like everybody else uses Payless Shoes.
To get an idea of what I'm talking about, compare driving an inexpensive compact car versus something like a Toyota Land Cruiser. I am fully aware that a new Land Cruiser will set you back about $80,000 versus around $15,000 for the Little Car That Could. But remember that Land Cruisers, although considered luxury cars here, are built to withstand "roads" from the Himalayas to the Serengeti for hundreds of thousands of miles through territory where certified mechanics don't exist. It will last longer than 10 cheap compact cars. You will die before it does. How much greener can you get than that?
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The same principle can be applied to almost everything we consume. Quality costs more initially, but in many cases the extended useful life of the high-quality product is disproportionately greater than its additional cost. In other words, it is actually cheaper. To save the planet, we need to embrace this concept.
We are a "throwaway" society because we think we can afford to be. It's a cheap trick. I think things would be different if we somehow could keep a running tab of the total cost of all the crap we buy and dispose of. Then it would be harder to throw away 10 Target T-shirts that cost $5 each than one from J.Crew that cost $30, but that's not the reality we live in. We turn the $5 shirts into cleaning rags one at a time and never think twice about it, whereas we keep the $30 J.Crew until it is faded, tattered and cool-looking.
If we eat at The Little Nell instead of Applebee's, we will eat out less often (and probably lose weight). If we fly first class and stay at five-star hotels, we will travel less. If we buy higher-priced, less-processed groceries, we will eat less. It's really a matter of enjoying less of more. It might even make saving the planet enjoyable.
Roger Marolt believes that more of better and less of worse is a good thing. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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