Consuming less is our best strategy for saving the planet—but can we do it? In this thoughtful and surprisingly optimistic book, journalist J. B. MacKinnon investigates how we may achieve a world without shopping.
We can’t stop shopping. And yet we must. This is the consumer dilemma.
The economy says we must always consume more: even the slightest drop in spending leads to widespread unemployment, bankruptcy, and home foreclosure.
The planet says we consume too much: in America, we burn the earth’s resources at a rate five times faster than it can regenerate. And despite efforts to “green” our consumption—by recycling, increasing energy efficiency, or using solar power—we have yet to see a decline in global carbon emissions.
Addressing this paradox head-on, acclaimed journalist J. B. MacKinnon asks, What would really happen if we simply stopped shopping? Is there a way to reduce our consumption to earth-saving levels without triggering economic collapse? At first this question took him around the world, seeking answers from America’s big-box stores to the hunter-gatherer cultures of Namibia to communities in Ecuador that consume at an exactly sustainable rate. Then the thought experiment came shockingly true: the coronavirus brought shopping to a halt, and MacKinnon’s ideas were tested in real time.
Drawing from experts in fields ranging from climate change to economics, MacKinnon investigates how living with less would change our planet, our society, and ourselves. Along the way, he reveals just how much we stand to gain: An investment in our physical and emotional wellness. The pleasure of caring for our possessions. Closer relationships with our natural world and one another. Imaginative and inspiring, The Day the World Stops Shopping will embolden you to envision another way.
Journalist MacKinnon (The Once and Future World) delivers an intriguing report on the "consumer dilemma": in order to prevent ecological disaster, humans must significantly reduce their consumption of the planet's natural resources, yet doing so would be disastrous for the world economy as it's currently structured. MacKinnon tackles this paradox by drawing on research from the fields of anthropology, psychology, biology, and economics to imagine what would happen if consumer spending suddenly dropped by 25%. A visit to the last U.S. county to enforce "blue laws" banning the sale of most consumer goods on Sundays leads to a discussion of how time seems to "broaden and slow down" when commercial activities cease. MacKinnon also posits a connection between widespread racial justice protests in 2020 and a shift toward "intrinsic values" that occurred as a result of Covid-19 shutdowns, and interviews marine biologists who have studied how slowdowns in human activities have benefited endangered species including the North Atlantic right whale. Though MacKinnon underplays the shocks (unemployment, tax shortfalls, political discord) that such an economic disruption might incur, his thought experiment is well-researched and stimulating. Readers will be galvanized to make changes in their own buying habits.