WN: A discussion of a brilliant book casting new light on ACD (Anthropogenic Climate Disruption).
If the purpose of a thought experiment is to cast new light on familiar phenomena, the better to inspire a cascade of new thoughts on scarcely registered realities, J.B. MacKinnon certainly delivers in The Day the World Stops Shopping. On his way to exploring what could happen in the wake of a sudden 25 per cent drop in human consumption, MacKinnon offers eye-opening explanations of everything from why energy-saving products have not decreased climate-threatening carbon emissions to what causes those mysterious holes in your T-shirt. Shopping begins by noting that, for 50 years, our consumption of planetary resources has accelerated, first in rich countries and then worldwide—to the extent that it passed population as humanity’s greatest environmental challenge around the turn of the millennium, according to the UN’s expert panel on resources. And we’ve barely noticed, the author adds in an interview.
“It’s one of those shifting baselines where the circumstances change so gradually,” says MacKinnon, one of the most prominent journalists in Canada, whose previous books include the Charles Taylor Prize winner Dead Man in Paradise and the bestseller The 100-Mile Diet. Airline travel is the first personal change that comes to his mind. “When I think back to life in the year 2000, comparing the amount I flew then to how much I—and the people I know—fly now, it’s much more. I’m constantly encountering people who take off for a quick break several times a year.” But flight is not alone in explosive 21st-century growth. The number of clothing items bought per person has increased 60 per cent over 20 years, and the number of digital devices has risen even more sharply.
The contemporary everyone-their-own-phone, a-TV-in-every-room world requires enormous amounts of power, also little noticed by most users. According to one expert interviewed by MacKinnon, when asked about the energy use associated with their phones, most people think only of recharging the batteries, not about the massive data processing centres that allow users to stream the video they watch on those phones. We still associate energy demand and emissions with goods, not services, although they are just as voracious. “Remember when millennials were declared to be the generation that would save the planet because they were shifting from products to experiences?” asks the 51-year-old author. “Well, their experiences turned out to be intensely consumeristic.”
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