If last year's first British Black Friday is anything to go by, this coming Friday is going to see "riots" and "mayhem" across the country as frantic shoppers scrap over TVs and many other so-called must-haves . In the US Black Friday is the day following Thanksgiving, and since the early 2000s it has marked the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Most major American retailers open very early, some overnight, and offer promotional sales. Some states give their employees the day off and many schools are closed. It has been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005. Here, stores from Argos to John Lewis are gearing up for a day of cut-price shopping lust.
However, some people will be staying away, for Friday 27 is also Buy Nothing Day.
Buy Nothing Day was originally the brainchild of a Canadian, Ted Dave, who in 1992, a decade before the consumption-fest of Black Friday took hold, instigated an annual day intended to raise awareness of the connection between over-consumption and environmental destruction environmental destruction His campaign was taken up by Adbusters who extended it into an international day of protest against consumerism which has been taken up in Japan and much of Europe.
Buying nothing is a great deal more peaceful and dignified than entering into the shopping frenzy. But as a protest it is pretty invisible. So what can it achieve? Probably very little by itself; but the very suggestion that we might desist from buying anything for a single day in the year might usefully wake some people up to just how consumption-saturated Western culture is. And it's a culture to which other societies, such as China's, heartily aspire heartily aspire.
Not only do we constantly shop but we also constantly throw our purchases away. You only have to glance at the staggering quantities of perfectly good food, clothes, household items and other stuff that daily gets consigned to the nation's dustbins and tips, as did Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his recent TV campaign against waste to realise how casually stuff is bought and disposed of in the fully-fledged consumer society. It's no joke. Consumerism is trashing the environment we depend on for life by turning its resources and services into goods that quickly become trash themselves.
In fact, before it even leaves the shop, every single purchase we make is responsible for some degree of environmental depletion and/or pollution. Almost all goods and services involve extraction or manufacture of raw materials, energy-use and waste-production in their creation, as well as in their packaging, transporting, warehousing and retailing. When we feel that impulse to buy something, we may, if we are prudent, consider whether our finances mean we can afford it. This is no longer enough. If we want to maintain the hospitality of the Earth we also need to get into the habit of asking ourselves, Do I really need it? Can the planet afford me to have it? If we are honest, the answer is likely to be no on both counts: we can often manage perfectly well with what we've got, and researchers at the University of Melbourne have now warned that unbridled production and consumption will soon begin to bring about global ecological collapse. Already six years ago scientists deduced that three of the critical nine environmental boundaries had already been crossed already been crossed ; just this year we were found to have transgressed a fourth.
This may all sound very dismal, so used are we to the ease and pleasure of shopping. But the good news is that we need not see the prospect of reducing our material expectations as one of hair-shirted sacrifice, but rather a prompt to a different and much more promising perspective on life. Put it like this: would you prefer to spend your afternoon in the high street or sitting round a table with friends, going for a country walk, or learning a new skill? That you can't buy happiness has long been averred, but largely ignored as we prowl round shopping malls and scour online market places. Now is the time to for us to realise at last that true wellbeing is not, as advertising would have us believe, provided by possessions, appearance, luxury and convenience, but is generated by all sorts of personal capital that cannot be bought. For, once we have decent housing and a reliable source of good food, clean water and warmth, plus a little money left over to play with, it is not getting and spending money that generates wellbeing. Far from it. Much the most valuable assets a person can have are cordial, trustworthy relationships. To enjoy life to the full and to find it satisfying we also need to be actively engaged, to have a sense of purpose and meaning and belonging, to experience the natural world and the human capacity for creativity, and to feel we are making a contribution to the world. Unlike economic growth, which is as finite as the planet, the potential for growth in desirable human qualities, capacities and experiences - such as appreciativeness, joy, humour, empathy and resourcefulness - is pretty well unbounded.
Shopping may make us feel briefly happy as we take possession of something new. But to serve our deeper needs, and to live within the constraints of what the Earth can provide, we need to redirect our aspirations. We need nothing short of culture change and the overhaul of the current economic system whose raison d'ệtre is the conversion of natural and human resources for profitable consumption, the making of money for its own sake. Instead we need a system designed to safeguard vital environmental integrity and nurture our wellbeing.
So let's buy nothing on 27 November, and maybe not on 26 or 28 either. Instead, let's cook from scratch, fix that wonky shelf, dig the garden, play with the children, ask a neighbour round, write to our MP, go to the park, make a list of ten things we are grateful for, write a poem, join a choir, make a Christmas present for someone, or ...... there's so much to choose from to add quality to life, and none of it need involve material consumption and destruction.