Quantcast
Insights

David Suzuki: Stop Buying So Much Stuff

How much stuff will you give and receive this holiday season? Add it to the growing pile—the 30-trillion-ton pile. That's how much technology and goods humans have produced, according to a study by an international team led by England's University of Leicester. It adds up to more than all living matter on the planet, estimated at around four trillion tons.

Scientists have dubbed these times the "Anthropocene," because humans are now the dominant factor influencing Earth's natural systems, from climate to the carbon and hydrologic cycles. Now they're labeling our accumulated goods and technologies—including houses, factories, cars, roads, smartphones, computers and landfills—the "technosphere" because it's as large and significant as the biosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere. Researchers estimate it represents 50 kilograms for every square meter of Earth's surface and is 100,000 times greater than the human biomass it supports.

As CBC science commentator Bob McDonald wrote, "Our technology is a super-organism that competes with the biosphere for resources and is winning that competition by taking over the surface of the planet."

Report co-author Mark Williams explained the significance: "The technosphere can be said to have budded off the biosphere and arguably is now at least partly parasitic on it. At its current scale the technosphere is a major new phenomenon of this planet—and one that is evolving extraordinarily rapidly. Compared with the biosphere, though, it is remarkably poor at recycling its own materials, as our burgeoning landfill sites show. This might be a barrier to its further success—or halt it altogether."

Living systems renew and recycle. Organisms die, get eaten or absorbed by other organisms, and other life takes their place. But much of what we produce takes enormous amounts of natural, mostly finite resources to make and breaks down slowly, if at all. It covers the land and fills oceans, and even extends into space. As the human population continues to grow and consumerism shows no signs of abating, the technosphere expands, causing pollution, contamination and resource depletion, further upsetting the delicate natural balance that keeps our planet habitable for humans and other life forms.

Many things we've invented have made our lives easier in some ways. But much is unnecessary and, we've learned, a lot comes with consequences we didn't foresee—such as climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions from our obsession with private automobiles and cheap energy.

If this pace continues, we'll leave a fascinating fossil record for any intelligent species that comes across our planet in the future. But that may be all. If we want to survive as a species, we must get a handle on population growth and consumerism. It's something to consider this time of year, when so much time and energy are spent on acquiring new stuff, for ourselves and others.

Although population growth is starting to stabilize, curtailing growth requires greater access to effective, voluntary family planning and birth control, increased women's rights including the right to make decisions about their bodies and reproduction, and reducing poverty.

We can all do our part to reduce consumption. We might find we're happier when we do. At the end of his life, my father didn't talk about accomplishments or possessions or wealth. He talked about connections to friends and family and shared experiences. Although he didn't have a lot of material possessions, he felt wealthy and happy.

That's what life is about. A new car or smartphone won't make you happier in the long run. Nor will it fill gaps caused by loneliness or lack of connection to others. That doesn't mean we should live without material goods, but we should consider what we really need, and make sure we recycle items we can no longer use. Reduce, re-use and recycle! And reconsider what really makes us happy.

More important, during the holiday season, we should nurture our connections to friends and family, and give gifts that won't add to the technosphere. We can share time, experiences and food. Those who find themselves alone might consider volunteering to help others during what can be a difficult time.

May you all have a joyous season, focused on the important things in life. And may the New Year bring humanity a greater understanding of what truly makes life worthwhile.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
The turkey ranch in Sonora is where Diestel keeps its pasture-raised birds. Jeanne Cooper

Popular Diestel Turkey Sold at Whole Foods Tests Positive for FDA-Prohibited Drugs

Diestel Turkey, sold by Whole Foods and other retailers at premium prices, says on its website that its "animals are never given hormones, antibiotics or growth stimulants."

But Diestel Turkey samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggest otherwise, leading consumers to wonder: Can these companies be trusted?

Keep reading... Show less

Slaughter of 90,000 Wild Horses Could Proceed Despite 80% Objection From American Public

The American Wild Horse Campaign on Thursday harshly criticized Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke's appointment of Brian Steed, the former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), as the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as dangerous and out of step with the wishes of the vast majority of Americans.

"Rep. Stewart is leading the charge to slaughter America's wild horses and burros over the opposition of 80 percent of Americans," said Suzanne Roy, AWHC Executive Director. "Putting his deputy at the helm of the agency charged with protecting these national icons is like putting the wolf in charge of the chicken coop."

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy

Bright Idea: This Lamp Harvests Its Own Energy From Plants

Now that's green energy. Dutch product designer Ermi van Oers and her team are working on the first atmospheric lamp powered by living plants.

The Living Light does not require an electric socket. It can harvest its own energy through the photosynthetic process of the encased plant, which means the potential of this off-grid light source could be "huge," as Van Oers told Dezeen.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate

Landmark Youth Climate Lawsuit Heads to Federal Appeals Court

There has been a significant development in the constitutional climate change lawsuit so far successfully prosecuted by 21 youth plaintiffs: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided to hear oral argument over whether the Trump administration can evade trial currently set for Feb. 5, 2018. Oral arguments will be heard before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Dec. 11 and can be watched on a live stream beginning at 10 a.m. PST.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Martin Schulz / Flickr

Pope Francis: These 4 'Perverse Attitudes' Could Push Earth to Its Brink

Pope Francis issued a strong message to negotiators at the COP23 climate talks in Bonn, Germany on Thursday, warning them not to fall into "four perverse attitudes" regarding the future of the planet—"denial, indifference, resignation and trust in inadequate solutions."

Francis, who has long pressed for strong climate action and wrote his 2015 encyclical on the environment, renewed his "urgent call" for renewed dialogue "on how we are building the future of the planet."

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza sits near the Statoil contracted oil rig Transocean Spitsbergen. Greenpeacce

Groups Sue Norway Over Failure to Protect Environment for Future Generations

By David Leestma

Greenpeace and the Nature and Youth environmental group opened a lawsuit this week over Norway's failure to abide by its constitutional obligation to safeguard the environment for future generations.

The lawsuit, which focuses on local environmental damage and the contribution that oil extraction will make to climate change, challenges 10 licenses issued by the Norwegian government for exploration in the Barents Sea. Given to Statoil, Chevron and other oil companies, the licenses violate Norway's constitution and the Paris agreement, according to the plaintiffs. Government lawyers claim the case is a publicity stunt that risks valuable jobs.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Food
Lia Heifetz of Barnacle Foods hauls kelp for salsa. Bethany Sonsini Goodrich

A Plea for Kelp: These Farmers and Chefs Want to Make Seaweed the Next Superfood

By Sarah Bedolfe

Summer in southeast Alaska is kelp season for the cofounders of Barnacle Foods, Lia Heifetz and Matt Kern. Each week, the pair watches the tides and weather, waiting for the right moment to cruise out to the abundant kelp beds offshore. They lean over the side of the boat and pull up the fronds and stalks, one piece at a time. As soon as they get back to shore, they start processing the day's harvest into a local delicacy: kelp salsa.

Salsa and Alaskan algae might seem like odd bedfellows, but for Barnacle Foods, it's a calculated decision. The kelp's savory notes make the salsa's flavor "a little more explosive," according to Kern. And the pairing is also a practical one. "Salsa is such a familiar food item," Heifetz said. It's "a gateway to getting more people to eat seaweed."

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Lorie Shaull / Flickr

Massive Pipeline Leak Shows Why Nebraska Should Reject Keystone XL

About 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) of oil leaked Thursday from TransCanada's Keystone oil pipeline near Amherst, South Dakota, drawing fierce outcry from pipeline opponents.

The leak, the largest spill to date in South Dakota, comes just days before Nebraska regulators decide on whether its controversial sister project—the Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline—will go forward.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!