Everyone calls themselves sustainable, but we don’t talk about our personal consumption. We need to change the conversation. Before it’s too late.
The year is 1995. I am a recent journalism student in Volda. I need wine glasses. I find them at a second-hand shop in the city center. Six crystal glasses. For 60 kroner! (around €5.50).
I was sold. Since then I have been a total bargain hunter. For 25 years I have been hunting for treasures: And I found, I found!
I found more and more: Art by famous artists and artisans, the canvas a great-grandmother embroidered in half a year, handmade quality kitchen fittings, glorious rhododendron bushes, ancient cobblestones from the city square in Trondheim, Norwegian design classics. And in recent years expensive clothes with the designer label still attached. Things I would never have been able to afford to buy new.
Growth is a sacred mantra.
For 25 years almost all Norwegians have seen their real wages increase. We are also now almost top in Europe in the consumption rankings. Beaten only by Luxembourg.
In my home county of Trøndelag, the guys no longer sit with the karsk cup and discuss its homely quality. They wrinkle their noses at quality French wine. We have become a global connoiseurs – globetrotters who board our planes to New York, London and Australia.
In our designer stark living rooms, selected Danish design classics hang on the walls and we stock up on clothes as if the store shelves will be empty next week.
We demand and Asia delivers.
I feel cheated when I take my daughter’s almost new cuddly peach pants out of the washing machine. Brand new, but already full of tears. Fast fashion. Clothes that unbutton, seams that unravel and zips that fall off.
The mountain of clothing thrown away each year is equivalent to 250 times the weight of the Empire State Building. 92 million tons. Just think about that for a minute!
I travel to the shoemaker to pick up my Aurland shoes, crafted in a fjord in Western Norway in the 70s. A buy it for life bargain which just keeps giving. These shoes have been a pleasure to wear for all these years. It’s starting to rain and I have to run for cover. Extreme weather. I’d better get used to it, I think, because this unsettled status is not going to improve any time soon.
According to recent reports from Statistics Norway , Norwegian emissions actually fell from 2018 to 2019. But strangely, this calculation does not include the emissions caused by the personal consumption patterns of us typical Norwegians. Municipalities across the country are working on plans for how to cut their emissions in line with the Paris Agreement in 2015, but for some reason they’re missing the bigger picture.
For 25 years I have been hunting for treasures such as Norwegian design classics
and in recent years even expensive clothes with designer labels attached. Things
I would never have been able to afford to buy new.
It is difficult to make the right choice in a sea of so-called sustainable choices.
The problem is we – the citizens of Norway – have a personal footprint that is around 15 times larger than the emissions from our municipality’s activities.
Worse, there are currently no tools that accurately map exactly how much you and I emit in CO2 as part of our consumption patterns and lifestyles. Sometimes we make an educated guess, but we really don’t know. We Norwegians also freely consume a large number of imported goods. We demand and Asia delivers. The emissions invoice is sent back to the country of production. Not our problem.
But it is.
On Saturday 22 August 2020, the earth’s resources for 2020 were used up. Three weeks later than last year due to COVID-19. But we Norwegians are still the worst contributors. If everyone in the world had lived like us, the earth’s resources would have been used up by mid-April.
We need a tool to show what our consumption means in actual CO2 emissions.
The worse is that now everyone wants to live like us. China has a rapidly growing middle class of 400 million people. India is following suit. By 2030, 500 million Indians will travel, shop and buy like us, according to the World Economic Forum. Things will be buzzing in Lofoten.
At the same time, global climate emissions are targeted to be cut by almost 8 percent annually. It’s pretty obvious that this formula can’t work.
There is currently no official climate policy that addresses personal consumption. There are no tools to measure the inhabitants’ footprints. And while it is possible to find out if you dig deep enough, it’s a long, expensive and tedious affair.
People find it difficult to do the right thing in a sea of so-called sustainable choices. Everyone is green and sustainable at the moment, even state-owned oil companies.
We need some good old-fashioned public information, and we need a tool that shows what our consumption means in actual emissions. Because if we do not quickly create a market for sustainable goods and services, emissions will only continue to rise.
But we are not talking about this potential for disaster. In most parts of the world growth is still a sacred mantra. The engine of our society. And if you remove the pleasure of consumption from the average person, you immediately rob them of the happiness which gives their lives meaning. Apparently. Ibsen lives among us.
Nowadays my own sense of satisfaction from picking up bargains is also no longer the same. This weekend I reviewed the autumn catalogue at Fretex and got a bad taste in my mouth. A cashmere sweater and a pair of unused Tommy Hilfiger trousers for 300 kroner (€31)?
Do I really need them?