Happily quarantined chez nous, Violet and I have systematically moved from room to room, alternately discovering long-lost items, assembling items to donate, and vanquishing murderous dust bunnies. Parsing through our belongings has led to one clear conclusion: we have way too much stuff. The kilowatt hours necessary to manufacture that which has filled our modest townhome could surely power a small village. I shiver when considering the fluorocarbons and other pollutants that have been emitted in service of my material life. As we ponder the parameters of our post-virus future, it is time to subsume our personal desires to the needs of the Earth which sustains us.
I am intrigued by fashion, with its avant-garde artistry and preppy classics. This is a trait inherited from my mother, whose sense of style is unmatched. Our collective closets could clothe countless, but at considerable cost to the natural world that we both hold dear. From growing or creating the fabrics, to manufacture of the pieces themselves, to intercontinental transport and distribution, to the energy required to power the boutiques, the environmental effects are devastating. While it is true that the industry employs many along the supply chain, the paltry benefits received by these workers pale in comparison to the long-term harm inflicted upon the planet.
The solution is not nudity, but making better, more selective decisions about what I choose to purchase. In the end, having a large array of dope threads is only an exercise in vanity. The Earth would be better served if, instead of amassing an arsenal of essentially disposable garments, I invested in fewer, more dear outfits that were well- and sustainably made. While panache could still be somewhat of a consideration, it would be secondary to the utility and durability of the clothes. These limited purchases could then be supplemented by secondhand clothes and a quick tutorial in sewing and patching.
My garage is no better than my wardrobe. Despite being deeply obsessed with skiing, I must question whether I personally need three pairs of skis, multiple helmets, countless goggle and sunglass lenses, not to mention the other accoutrements of modern mountain living like bikes, paddleboards, fishing rods, coolers, and the like. That even hurts to write, but if making clothes is bad for the Earth, then manufacturing skis and other outdoor gear is a pure hellscape. Not only is the quantity of apparatus an issue, but the impetus to purchase newer and better gear each season creates an absurd cycle of materialism from which one seemingly never escapes.
Each room of the house is susceptible to this criticism: I have plenty of knives in my kitchen and various potions in my bathroom. While marketing hype is partly to blame for stoking this drive, I am surely not absolved of responsibility. It is my own ego, my own need to fill a void, my lust for the shiny and new that is ultimately destroying the very environment that I consider my salvation.
Beginning with the Industrial Revolution and accelerating in the postwar and postmodern eras, we have employed material logic; a calculus of consumption that enriches very few and destroys far too many. It is high time that we put aside our insatiable appetite for things and apply the same fervor to saving what resources we have not already plundered. Lost in our myopia and our pretension, we have always had it wrong: it is our wants that are expendable, and the Earth’s needs that are not. That is the only sound logic.