Thursday, August 26, 2010

Need vs. Want

There's an interesting debate I got into this morning over coffee with dad.  It seems as though we are getting into many debates these days as I dig deeper into certain issues.  This morning we were discussing consumption and how we need to find a way, especially in this country, to reduce our footprint significantly or we are in big trouble.  I recently watched a TED Talk http://www.ted.com/talks/jason_clay_how_big_brands_can_save_biodiversity.html on the subject, and it made reference to resource consumption and how terribly over capacity we are.  Many of us blame over population, but according to this video, a cat in Europe has a bigger footprint than the average person in Africa.  Further more, the average American consumes over 40 times as much as the average African.  Amazing!  So it made me take a hard look at my own situation and consumption.  I have a ton of stuff, just random stuff that is now crammed into my parents house because once upon a time I believed that I needed another pair of jeans, or a better hair straightener, or a big flat-screen television, or what ever.  Now it just sits here and symbolizes how truly clueless I was. 

But was I being clueless or just following suit with the status quo?  As young adults fresh out of college we are all trying to figure out how to do it all.  They are selling it to me, so it must serve a purpose of some sort that I will discover as I am now taking care of my own household or doing this new job and living in this new environment.  The truth I discovered is that we really only need the basics and what we add on to that need is simply want.  There is nothing wrong with wanting things.  We are bombarded with messages telling us we just have to have the latest and greatest everything.  So where do we draw the line between need and want and when is enough enough?  For large enterprises the answer appears to be never.  There is always more revenue to make and competition out there that will jump all over the market if a company lets up, even just for a moment.  And we are beginning to behave like our companies.  We want more and more and more. 

I decided to make an effort in my own life to change this and it is much more challenging than I thought.  To make a positive change in our world for the sake of our planet, we have to reduce each person's footprint.  The best place to start is take a look at our patterns and habits.  As I started to pay more attention, I see glaring wasteful things that I do, despite my strong opinions.  For example, I certainly did not need another pair of shoes and a dress the other day, but I felt compelled to purchase them anyway.     Why did I feel so driven to buy stuff that I know I don't need?  Because, just like any other habit, it is hard to stop certain behaviors all at once, especially when the result of the purchase does not appear to have any striking negative effects.  But we need a new consciousness about it.  We need to be aware that every purchase does have some impact.  If we at least are aware of what we are doing, more sensitive to our purchases, maybe instead of buying three pairs of shoes, we will buy one and carry it out of the store in our own reusable bag instead theirs.  This is obviously just one small example, but it applies to many other facets in our lives than just apparel.  I would like to start learning more ways to cut down on my consumption and reducing all these wants.  For me, it seems to be a good first step.

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