I was watching a video podcast from Pop Tech tonight from Alex Steffen from the environmental site WorldChanging.com. In the talk he outlined the positive impacts that dematerializing our society could have on the environment. For example, a particular pet peeve of mine is the ownership of small appliances like lawnmowers. Why is it that every household has to own a lawnmower? Couldn’t we just share and save on carbon emissions?
Imagine, if you will, a street on which there are 44 houses. Each house has a small lawn and therefore a small electric mower that costs on average £50. Similarly, each of these 44 houses has a vacuum cleaner of an average cost of £100. Taking into consideration the embodied energy in each appliance throughout the entire lifecycle, the total carbon emissions from both vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers on this average UK street is almost 12 tonnes (click on the link to view a PDF with the vague sources of this data).
If we shared one vacuum cleaner and one lawnmower between four households (based on the amount of people I know in my street), then the average street could save about 9 tonnes of carbon which is the equivalent of taking 2.5 small cars off the road. Multiply that by the some 22 million households in the UK and you have a staggering amount of carbon that could be stopped from going into the atmosphere.
My figures are incredibly inaccurate, but it is just to demonstrate that a small change of behaviour could yield a very large return in favour of the environment. All we have to do is to alter the way that we view the ownership of stuff. If we remove the cultural and social caché that is currently attached to the ownership of certain goods, then we can work out new systems to accommodate their partial deletion from our lives. As James Howard Kunstler has recently said at TED, we need to stop referring to ourselves as consumers because consumers have no responsibility toward their fellow human beings.
Only consumers “need” to own ridiculous amounts of stuff and consumers are like SO 20th century.