Black Friday: my nightmare for the planet

I’ve had a recurring nightmare lately. In the dream, my seven-year-old son comes home from school and asks, “Dad, can you buy me? [insert video game console of choice], is on sale for Black Friday”. I start telling him why he won’t get it, and then everything goes dark and I wake up in a cold sweat.

As a child, the grandson of Italian farmers, I loved following the seasons, picking grapes at the end of summer, eating chestnuts in autumn, appreciating nature’s gifts at every stage of the year. I wish the same experience and appreciation of nature for my son, who we are growing up in the Netherlands. I want him to have fond memories of him skating down a frozen canal on a freezing winter morning and climbing trees to pick late fall apples. But buying a discount game console on Black Friday? It has never been on the memory list to share with my son.

Game console controller discarded in a municipal landfill in Ghana.
©Greenpeace/Kate Davison

Why I’m saying no to Black Friday binges

I don’t blame my child for wanting new toys. I blame the system: Nowadays, we are bombarded with ads and under enormous pressure to worship new gods in the form of trademarks and consume, consume, consume; it’s pretty much our only mantra.

Consumerism is particularly bad in the big commercial cities, with their sprawling malls and street shops – and the inevitable stacks of delivery cardboard boxes that line nearly every street. It’s as if we’ve swallowed consumerism whole, and it’s taking a toll on our planet’s limited resources and on our mental health. Today’s economy is functioning at a level where we would need 1.8 lands to meet the current rate of global consumption.

Black Friday action with a packing box tower in Osnabrück, Germany.
Greenpeace volunteers build a tall tower of packing boxes in front of a department store in central Osnabrück to draw attention to consumer alternatives in the run-up to Christmas and around “Black Friday”.
© Lars Berg / Greenpeace

Black Friday in the cities: it’s messy

Nearly three-quarters of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions come from urban areas. And a large part of it boils down to the consumption of goods and services. To make matters worse, cities are growing: Today, 55% of the world’s population lives in cities. By 2050, that number will rise to 68%.

Black Friday Light Painting in Copenhagen.  ©Greenpeace/Michael Hedelain
Long exposure image taken in Copenhagen, Denmark with a ‘pixelstick’ LED light painting that reads ‘If you don’t need it, don’t buy it’ for Black Friday.
©Greenpeace/Michael Hedelain

But who makes all the purchases that create these emissions? Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are the richest people in the world. After the super rich 1% – the billionaires who are responsible for twice as many emissions as the bottom 50% – top 10% come in – those who earn more than $23 a day. (Most likely, this group, who live in high-income countries and emerging economies, includes you and me.) Together, these top 10% are responsible for 36-45% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Consumerism: from bad to worse

Overconsumption is also cannibalizing nature, as urban areas encroach on farmland and forests, which in turn threatens our food supply. If urban sprawl continues at its current pace, by 2040 we will have lost as much food as the weight of 21 million trucks.

Fast fashion research in Kenya.
Used and new clothes are sent to Kenya from Europe and China to be sold as so-called “Mitumba” but often end up in landfills and waste disposal due to the huge quantities involved.
©Kevin McElvaney/Greenpeace

What we can do: Adopt a low-carbon lifestyle

In addition to calling for a carbon tax on the super rich and phasing out fossil fuels, the good news is that if the richest 10% responsible for the lion’s share of the planet’s impact can reduce their consumption, we can reduce emissions of greenhouse gases globally by 40 to 70%. But cities and those who govern them play a vital role in achieving this goal. On a practical level, this means adopting ‘low carbon lifestyles’ where, for example, building systems of reuse and sharing, repair and exchange. We can also actively go about seeking shared pleasure and enjoyment from experiences, not objects. Most items purchased for short-term gratification on Black Friday will soon be forgotten – the vast majority of goods will be used once and then discarded.

Do something week in Hong Kong.
To combat overconsumption and wasteful shopping this holiday season, thousands of producers around the world have joined Greenpeace for the MAKE SMTHNG action week with workshops and events.
©Patrick Cho/Greenpeace

So the real question is: how can I help my child, who is bombarded day after day with brand advertising? Banning or regulating commercial advertising, as some cities and governments are already doing, will help, but it’s also up to us parents and guardians to try and show the younger generation that we care that, despite what they are told, consumerism does not bring meaningful happiness. . It’s no fun being the dad who always says “no” to shiny new plastic or electronic toys, but I hope the memories we share doing things rather than purchase the things it will teach my son that there is more to a happy life than a black friday deal.

Alessandro Saccoccio is an activist of Greenpeace International, based in the Netherlands.

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