This year on Black Friday (the day U.S. retailers and shoppers kick off the holiday shopping season (and the biggest shopping day of the year), we’re offering the world an alternative to mayhem at the mall. We’ll be screening our groundbreaking documentary, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth, free on the Internet for audiences around the world. Stay home, have some family time, pop popcorn, and watch a movie that will stimulate a lively discussion (Event times and registration here). Here’s a short promo I think you’ll like (please share with your friends):
Generosity and selflessness are universally considered admirable qualities. I suspect that was the genesis for the gift-giving traditions observed in the celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa at this time of year. So giving a gift is – to borrow a phrase from Martha Stewart – “a good thing.” But when we do our holiday shopping, what gift are we giving to future generations?
It’s the most deadly time of the year.
Andy Williams sang Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year.” It’s a very good-feeling song. But the holiday shopping season has become so commercialized, and its kickoff, Black Friday, has become so crazed, that it’s now “the most deadly time of the year” – for the place we live, the Earth. It’s deadly because we are consuming natural resources and converting them into waste at a rate that is unsustainable.
Instead of rolling back prices, we need to roll back consumption.
Restoring robust economic growth requires that we head for the mall this holiday season and shop, baby, shop. But giving our kids the gift of good lives on a world worth inheriting requires that we consume less and lighten our load on the planet. How do we reconcile these conflicting urges?
It’s actually pretty easy to parse some of this. Does Black Friday mayhem and bargain-hunting really have a place in our hearts with holiday traditions like extended family gathered around the fire on a cold winter’s night sharing songs and stories? “Attention, Wal-Mart shoppers” just doesn’t have the same ring of magic and meaning.
Shop Less; Live More
A global movement to discourage shopping on Black Friday has long been building steam. Black Friday was dubbed “Buy Nothing Day” in 1992 by Adbusters Magazine, to draw attention to the issue of over-consumption. Campaigns like this encourage us to stay away from the malls on Black Friday (or Saturday in parts of the world where that kicks off the holiday shopping season; see Buy Nothing Day in Europe). In fact, I invite you to take a pledge to join us in NOT shopping on Black Friday here.
Not Just a Day; A Way of Living
It’s symbolic, for sure, but more and more of us are extending this notion of NOT shopping for holiday gifts deeper and deeper into our lives. After all, if in North America we’re currently consuming resources 5 times faster than Earth can replenish them, we need to do more than stay home on November 29. We need to be rethinking the cornucopian ideas we grew up with about nature’s abundance. Adbusters states that it “isn’t just about changing your habits for one day” but “about starting a lasting lifestyle commitment to consuming less and producing less waste.”
The North American habit of super-consumption dies hard. It’s all we’ve known. But if we wanted to live lives in which we could drive, fly and shop with complete abandon, we would need to have stabilized world population when we hit 2 billion in 1927. If we wanted to own islands, fly our ownLearjets, and own a trophy house for every season, we should have stopped at 1 billion in 1800.
But we didn’t stop. We filled the world with 7 billion people (with no sign of stabilizing anytime soon), and we went on a binge of consumption that will forever be a milestone in the history of human civilization. Now that lack of attention to sustainability and limits is coming home to roost.
Is This a Job-Killer and Recession-Driver?
“What about the economy?” some may ask. “If you don’t shop, you’re putting people out of work.” That is undeniably true. But shouldn’t we find a way to run our economy that won’t kill the opportunity for future generations to have jobs and an economy to meet their needs? Participating in the rapacious, ecosystem-destroying economy of overconsumption is a short-term solution to unemployment, with tragic long-term consequences. We simply must find a better way.
People are Working on Better Ways
I’m not sure any of us have fully described that better way. People around the world are working on various pieces of this puzzle: localization, voluntary simplicity, work-sharing, barter, and self-provision. The only way we’ll fully develop the healthy, sustainable economy of the 21st century is by starving the old, 20 th century economy of oxygen. If ten or twenty percent of the populace withdraw their participation from holiday shopping madness each year, the system will evolve. It won’t be easy and it may not even be pretty, but it will be more elegant than if we keep the pedal to the metal until we’ve driven this economy – and the civilization that spawned it – right off the cliff.
During the next few weeks we hope to provide inspiration and information to help families discover alternatives to a high-consumption holiday season. There are creative ways to honor the holiday giving tradition that are more meaningful and fun than lining up outside Best Buy at 10 pm Thanksgiving night. We’ve listed a few ideas at our Worldwide Black Friday GrowthBusters Screening page. I encourage you to share your ideas in the comments section of this blog and on our Facebook page.
Join the Worldwide Screening & Conversation on 29/30 November
Mark your calendar on the 29th or 30th of November to join us for the free global GrowthBusters screening. You can find the show time in your time zone here. Families are encouraged to forget the mall, spend quality time together, and sit back and enjoy the film. You can also participate in the global conversation during or after the screening. I’ll be present to answer questions and take your suggestions. If you can’t attend, you can purchase or rent the film here.
It’s a Wonderful Life?
Could it become an American tradition along the lines of It’s a Wonderful Life every Christmas? Probably not. After all, GrowthBusters doesn’t star Hollywood A-Listers. Instead, it features interviews with the likes of Paul Ehrlich (The Population Bomb), Dennis Meadows (The Limits to Growth), Bill McKibben (350.org) and Juliet Schor (True Wealth). But, perhaps if enough people view GrowthBusters and begin the paradigm shift our culture needs, it will be a wonderful life for our children.
Filmmaker & GrowthBusters