The 5% Solution to Our Shopping Addiction
Thursday, 04 April 2013 00:00  |  Written by John Phillips | Commentary

The Five Percent Solution photo by Keo-101It is not enough for us to blame big government and big business for what is in reality our responsibility. It is our pursuit of goods and services that creates the demand for raw materials: coal, oil, timber, iron, etc. It is our consumption that causes forests to be harvested, mines to be dug and holes to be drilled in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. And the decisions we make in our professional careers determine how forests are harvested, how safely and cleanly coal and iron are mined, and how holes are drilled in the Gulf (carefully or recklessly).

Knowing that it is our responsibility is the first step toward addressing the problem of overconsumption and the resulting environmental damage. Next, we must realize that we hold the keys by the small changes we can make in our lifestyles. The final step of the solution is acting on this knowledge.

I call my plan of action: "The 5% Solution." Imagine the effect if each and every one of us reduced our demand or consumption by just this minimal amount! A five-percent reduction across the board including oil, gas, electricity, out-of-season foods, water, cars, the size of our homes, etc., would have a staggering effect. Yet this is a small number, easily achievable by each of us.

I’m not saying that we can all reduce our consumption in all areas by five percent. I’m saying reduce where you can, where it makes sense. A soccer mom may not be able to drive less; however, she can choose to drive a gas-efficient vehicle rather than a bronto-mobile SUV bent on guzzling fuel. She can lower the temperature in her house to reduce her energy use by five percent, save water and energy by taking fewer showers, or convert her backyard lawn into a vegetable garden, thus transforming waste of water and fertilizers into locally produced foods. These solutions are easily realized.

For myself, I live in the middle of nowhere, so I end up driving more than I like; however, I drive a 26-year-old truck that still gets more than 30 miles per gallon. Although it burns a little oil, the environmental saving of not replacing it every three years (as many do) means that I’ve saved the resources and reduced the impact of creating more than seven new trucks. Bottled water is not on my shopping list and lights in my home are used only in the room I occupy. I live in a cold house in the winter on purpose. I heat with locally harvested firewood from overly dense stands of piñon-juniper—a renewable resource—on and around my property. My back-up heating system, a boiler unit, sits idly on the garage floor, disconnected.

My large vegetable and herb garden supplies a fair portion of my food. I buy locally produced food and materials whenever possible, to shift demand from faraway sources to local ones. Imported foods are often produced with less environmental regulations of herbicides and pesticides than those in the United States, thus causing resource damage of which we may not be aware. The environmental costs of producing food in other countries and those of transportation are avoidable.

Certainly not everyone can do as much as I can, and I certainly can do more. Many others do much, much more. I can only encourage you to take a hard look at your lifestyle and the “things” you demand. It is important to differentiate between what you “need” and what you “want,” then decide how you can reduce in those few areas that are relatively painless for you. You’ll find yourself looking at life and lifestyles a little differently, and see new areas to reduce. If each and every one of us adopted the philosophy that “less” is more responsible—and “more” and “bigger” are not—we would find ourselves in communities that shun opulence and overconsumption, and admire those who do well with less.

In reality big business and big government are followers, not leaders. Elected officials vie for our votes and pursue our donations for reelection. Big business wants us to spend our money with them. If we stop demanding environmentally costly products and services, we effectively eliminate the negative ecological repercussions associated with them. Thus in a very fundamental way we reduce our environmental footprint—and become luminaries and citizens, not just consumers. There is no stronger way to lead, or more effective way to change this country and world, than how we conduct our lives and spend our money.

Realize your responsibility, understand that you can affect change and exercise your leadership!

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