On 27th September 2017, I read this in an email from Greenpeace.
“We’ve just found out that Velvet, the luxury loo roll, is using wood pulp from the Great Northern Forest to make its toilet paper. The forest stores huge amounts of carbon and plays a critical role in holding back the impact of climate change – but it’s at risk of being wiped away forever. And all for posh paper.”
It’s a crazy idea – saving the planet one product at a time. Let’s face it, consumerism is rife, pollution is appalling, and we’re all doomed. So eat, drink and be pampered, for tomorrow we die beautified.
On the other hand, if everyone decided today to live a little more carefully, we could make a significant difference. I’m conscious that I’ve been banging on to my family for nearly four decades about the horrors of climate change and apart from recycle assiduously, minimise waste and keep chickens, I haven’t really done very much. Yeah, useless, that’s me.
On February 15th of this year, as thousands of young British kids of school age took to the streets to protest at climate change, I felt embarrassed at how utterly crap I’ve been. Bless them for protesting!
And climate change is happening. These photographs were taken on 25th February of this year in my garden. Butterflies. Bloody butterflies in bloody February. It’s all wrong.
I am no naturalist, but I believe this is a small tortoiseshell. The viburnum is supposed to be out, the butterfly isn’t.
As you get wise to just how badly we have messed up the planet, you have every right to get angry. Not just with us baby boomers, but anyone who has thoughtlessly contributed to the rape of the planet, the world that we call home.
So I’m starting this blog that points out week by week the habits we can change and products we can stop using without personal pain or significant impact on our lives. Products that, when they are used by millions of people on a daily basis, do terrible cumulative damage. I’ll give you as much fact as I can, and with as much back up as I can muster. I promise, I will try not to lecture, nor will I be advising a hair-shirt lifestyle. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have some fun while saving the planet… is there?
It’s time we all started fighting for our home. Resisting the lure of the new, the sexy thrill of spending, the temporary fix we get from going home with full shopping bags… or even just assuming that the things we buy all the time are absolutely necessary when actually, they’re not… that’s as good place to start as any.
The terrifying subtlety of advertising
Steve Jobs, the legendary CEO of Apple Corp., didn’t hold with asking the public what they wanted. He held that the public don’t know what they want until you show it to them. Did we know we needed an iPhone? No, we didn’t, because we didn’t know what an iPhone might be. And can we live without ours now? I rest my case, Your Honour.
Big corporations know this. They’ve foisted product after product on a gullible public which that same public now thinks it can’t do without. Big corporations learned from and built on the work of a genius called Edward Bernays who happened to be Freud’s nephew.
Briefly, Bernays was a journalist who worked for the US Government in the field of propaganda during WW1 and just couldn’t stop when the war ended. He’s credited with inventing PR. In fact, he coined the phrase “Public Relations” to disguise the fact that it was actually propaganda.
His great achievement (if you can call it that) was to understand that it is possible to “control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it.” In other words, he showed that is possible to manipulate people and change their habits by appealing to the unconscious.
It’s scary stuff. We are constantly at the mercy of marketing manipulation. You really have to be vigilant to block the constant barrage of suggestion, nonsense, advertising and lazy journalism that recycles corporate PR and disguises it as news or even fact. It besieges us daily and persuades us to empty our wallets in pursuit of a cleaner, fuller, happier, more hygienic life. But oh my God, some of the stuff we are persuaded to buy is RUBBISH! And that’s where I come in.
How this started
The germ of this blog began when my old friend Margaret Allen came to visit from the USA.
Me and Margaret, all dolled up for a party.
She happened to mention that she wanted to write a book called “Stuff You Don’t Need” and I jumped at it immediately.
“Oh yes! Like wet wipe warmers you mean?”
“Exactly,” said Margaret. “And bath bombs, and products that “perfume” your vagina.”
“Yessss!” I cried. We ran through a lengthy list of products and gadgets and even medical procedures that we think of as unnecessary, wasteful, and environmentally destructive. (Incidentally, Margaret is a Physician Associate and has spent her working life at the sharp end of community medicine in the USA. She also has a Master’s Degree in Law.)
“And what about bloody tumble driers?” I cried.
Margaret said “Ah,” and looked a bit doubtful. Then she said she got quite a bit of use out of her tumble drier, mainly because she has a lot of visitors.
I was slightly shocked. Of the two of us, Margaret has always been the greater eco-warrior. Tumble driers are energy users on a grand scale, aren’t they? At least, I think… More research needed, Keane! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We started working on the idea. It’s morphed several times. It’s been a book, a blog, a book again, a blog… Somewhere along the line, the many thousands of miles between us made collaboration to hard to manage. It seemed easier if Margaret writes the book she envisaged in the first place, and I should write the blog with her occasional (and wonderful) contributions.
In addition, the project got re-named. “Stuff You Don’t Need” didn’t have quite the damning quality of “Shit You Don’t Need”.
I also want contributions from readers. I want you to let other people know about the blog. I want to know when I get my facts wrong, or if you have ideas of your own of things we could change about the way we live.
And if reading this blog persuades you to think twice before you spend your money on stuff you don’t need, I shall consider it well worth the effort.
Come back next week and find out what to change first…
I have done my very best to research my blog subjects to the best of my ability, and trust that all future guest contributors (yes please!) will do so as well. So this blog is not offering consumer or medical advice. Please consult your doctor if you feel unwell, and always seek the advice of experts IN PERSON if you are in doubt about any of the subjects raised in this blog. In other words, I cannot be held responsible for anything you may do as a result of reading this blog.