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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Buy Nothing Day

Air Date: Week of November 21, 1997

One man's answer to the holiday shopping crunch: just don't do it. A Vancouver, British Columbia based group is touting a new celebration for the holiday season called Buy Nothing Day, and it falls on the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year. Steve Curwood talks with Kalle Lasn (CALL-ay LAW-sen) who is the founder of the Media Foundation and the man behind Buy Nothing Day. He’s hoping that this year, instead of spending a lot of time and money at the mall, people will reflect on whether it’s necessary to spend at all.

Transcript

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

(Pigs oinking, followed by music and man's voice-over: "The average North American consumes 5 times more than a Mexican. Ten times more than a Chinese person. And 30 times more than a person from India...")

CURWOOD: You're listening to an advertisement. Make that a subvertisement, from The Media Foundation. The Vancouver, British Columbia-based group is touting a new celebration for the holiday season, and you don't have to max out your credit card to participate. The idea in fact is not to participate. It's called Buy Nothing Day, and it falls on the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year. Kalle Lasn is the founder of The Media Foundation and the man behind Buy Nothing Day. He's hoping that this year, instead of spending a lot of time and money at the mall, people will reflect on whether it's necessary to spend at all.

LASN: The goal is to launch a debate about sustainable consumption, to get people to ask themselves this question: how much is enough? You know, we North Americans are only a tiny 5% of the people in the world. And yet we consume a third, one third of the world's resources, and we also spew out about a quarter to one third of the world's greenhouse gases and toxic wastes. So this level of consumption is -- well, I find it morally obscene in some sense, and even quite aside from the ethical argument I think we as a nation have to come to grips with a level of consumption that is just plain unsustainable and is -- you know, I see our economic system as somehow living off the death of nature and off the backs of future generations.

CURWOOD: So what if people stay away from the mall on the Friday after Thanksgiving? What happens if they just put off their shopping until later?

LASN: Well, I think that Buy Nothing Day is a kind of a symbolic event. When I first went on a consumer fast for 24 hours, 5 year ago, then I found that it was quite a profound experience. I suddenly realized when I was walking past a shop and I wanted to have a Mars bar or a coffee or something, that curbing that impulse to buy was very, very difficult. It reminded me a little bit of when I tried to give up smoking in 1987. So I think that Buy Nothing Day is a good time to personally discover, you know, how much we are all -- I hate to use the word -- addicted, but I bet, yeah, addicted to satisfying that buying impulse.

CURWOOD: What happens to the people who work in the various industries who count on the Christmas boom for their paychecks?

LASN: Well, I think they also have to ask how much is enough? I understand that, you know, the retailers and the Chamber of Commerce will never take a shine to Buy Nothing Day. But nonetheless, I think there are some very deep-seated debate that we have to have, and I'm not going to let the Chamber of Commerce stop us from doing that. I think that somebody has to suffer, that's fine.

CURWOOD: No one's sent you a lump of coal yet, as a joke.

LASN: (Laughs) No, not so far, no. I should say that one way of not being called a Grinch would be to go to our World Wide Web site and download a Christmas gift exemption voucher, which basically says this year, instead of spending a huge amount of money on me, spend a huge amount of time with me.

CURWOOD: Ah. Love instead of a thing, is that it?

LASN: That's it.

CURWOOD: Ah.

LASN: You find that hard to take?

CURWOOD: How are you going to make a buck on love?

LASN: Well, maybe making a buck isn't what it used to be.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today.

LASN: I really appreciate talking to you, actually. Thank you.

CURWOOD: Kalle Lasn heads The Media Foundation, based in Vancouver. You can learn more about Buy Nothing Day by visiting our web site at www.loe.org.

 

 

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