How We End Consumerism

This is an excellent video that gets to the nub of what I’ve been hovering around for some time. My delve into minimalism, urbanism and investing have led me to a number of troubling realisations.

The world we know is changing whether we like it or not. Resources are finite and it’s only a matter of time before they run out. It’s how we deal with that change that will determine whether humans are going to be part of the Earth’s future, or whether we will just be a hugely destructive footnote.

Our lives aren’t defined by what we own

One of the big draws of minimalism is that the constant treadmill of consumption is driven by clever marketing that manipulates our innate desire to belong, but is ultimately fruitless. We buy things to feel accepted, but get hooked on the dopamine rush of acquiring something new. However, the dopamine rush soon fades and we are left feeling empty, only to repeat the cycle again.

Consuming products that are difficult to repair; are designed to fail and have no intrinsic value are helping to destroy the world we live in. The Earth cannot replace the resources we use as fast as we are using them, so there will come a time when we can simply no longer continue. The past year has given us a taste of resource scarcity, but this is only the beginning.

We need to move away from consuming in order to validate our existence. Cars are the ultimate in frivolous consumption –they’re becoming increasingly difficult to maintain compared to the cars we had in the 80s and 90s, but also have their age printed on the number plate for that added shame. They also separate us from our neighbours.

However, we folks on bikes are not immune either. It is time to re-write the formula N+1. N=1 is probably the way forward. If you have tried to buy a new bike in the past 12 months, you may have already come to this realisation anyway.

We need liveable spaces

In order to remove ourselves from a cycle of isolation and conspicuous consumption we need to belong to something. We all belong to the place where we live, even if we don’t feel connected to it right now. Unfortunately, at some point in the past few decades we decided that much of the built environment belonged to the car; what was left belonged to corporations.

This means that communal spaces are few and far between; places where people can mix either involve consumption of alcohol; or at the very least have opening and closing times.

We need places where people can be together without the expectation of money changing hands –community gardens; repair cafes; volunteering groups. To Cardiff’s credit we do quite well here already. We have Repair Cafe Wales; Green Squirrel; Cardiff Conservation Volunteers; and many other voluntary and community groups; but there is always room for more.

The financial system is set up to maintain the status quo

So, my delve into ethical investing has been…interesting. The trouble with money at the moment is that in order to get ahead, keeping your earnings in cash (or cash equivalents) is problematic. As of August 2021 the best interest rate you could hope for is 0.5%, which even if you conservatively estimate inflation at 2% means that every day your money buys you less. The only way around this is to buy assets. Property has a relatively high cost of entry –even a 10% deposit on a house is an eyewatering amount of money somewhere like Cardiff.

The alternatives are stocks, precious metals –and increasingly, cryptocurrencies. Now, even an ESG index fund of stocks is buying into a selection of stocks that exist to perpetuate the situation we find ourselves in at the top of this article. An ESG Developed World All-cap Equity index fund‘s biggest holding is likely to be Apple, followed by Microsoft; Amazon; Facebook –yes, even Facebook makes it onto an ethical fund despite having no ethics to speak of. Amazon is well known for treating its staff appallingly, yet it somehow makes it onto an ESG list. I’ve reached the conclusion that my idea of ethical is different to that of the index.

Apple, Microsoft and Amazon are all in the business of getting you to buy stuff you don’t need, to impress people you don’t even know; harnessing all of the telemetry data it collects to know just when you are at your most suggestible. Worse still, a lot of this stuff can’t be repaired when it inevitably breaks. Facebook and Google (Alphabet) is in the business of selling adverts to get people to buy things, or to manipulate elections.

So, by investing, you are effectively helping to dig the hole that we’ve found ourselves in; but by not investing you face seeing your savings eaten away to nothing. It’s hard to not feel as though we are in some sort of vicious cycle and I don’t yet know how we get out of it.

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