The American Dream has always revolved around template of comfort – one specific Cards Against Humanity card sums the experience up quite well:
"Getting married, having a few kids, buying some stuff, retiring to Florida, and dying."
And while we might toss the card around a dorm room coffee table and laugh about it, it holds a surprising amount of truth. "Successful" Americans buy stuff.
Let's take a step backward:
We all know the American Dream clashes with the environment – We've all seen Fern Gully, Pocahontas, Avatar, or any one of the giant collection of "we're sorry about colonialism" films. The idea of "taming the wild" and harvesting it in the name of progress simply doesn't pay; we need to protect Mother Nature from the man!
But why are people tearing down the rain forests? Why are they mining for minerals in the faces of once majestic mountains? Why are they drilling into the ground to bring up oil?
Because people pay them to do it. WE pay them to do it.
WE buy new things. New things rely on new resources.
Now, before you click away, realize this isn't a "you should feel bad but I have everything figured out" article. I'm not one of those people who'll pick apart your entire life just because I took a liberal arts class once.
But it's an apparent truth that I think we'd rather forget: every time we buy a brand new, sparkly object, we're rewarding the efforts of all those who dig up new resources. New gadgets, new clothes, and new cars all need fresh resources and a consequently huge amount of energy to deliver themselves to your doorstep.
I'm in no way trying to tell people their way of living is inherently wrong, but here are some things you should consider when shopping:
Can I buy this product used?
More often than not, the answer is "yes." You can buy just about any non-edible product from a previous owner. Where? eBay, Craigslist, Amazon -- all your favorite online vendors as well as local shops like thrift stores and used car dealerships.
Many people are wary of buying pre-owned items, but a little bit of knowledge about the product and seller can go a very long way. Some people don't like the idea of wearing used clothes, but believe me, they're clean. You can always lie to people and say you got it on super-sale. Odds are, the used product is about %75 cheaper.
Will this product last a long time?
Used or new, a product should be quality enough to last longer than a few months or even years. The longer you can stretch the lifespan of a product, the fewer times you'll need to buy it. Get durable clothes and electronics, and get cars that won't crap out after only a handful of years. The greatest thing you can do for Mother Nature is eliminate waste of all types, that includes the waste of things like clothes and shoes.
Can I resell this product?
You won't make much money buying new products and selling them. But you CAN make money buying used products, fixing them, and then reselling them.
But that's not the point. Everyone will need upgrades at some point. For instance, you need a new bike because the one you have simply isn't equipped for the level of riding you do.
Just be sure that when you upgrade, you appropriately sell the old product. Some people out there buy completely destroyed vehicles, fix them up, and put them back into the economy. There's a word for those people: heroes.
We need stuff, there's no question about that. But simply changing the way we buy it and how we treat it greatly impacts the environment. The American Dream may revolve around buying new things, but the American Dream is also responsible for a great deal of environmental loss.