We all want to wear nice things, and we all want to be able to afford what we want. Although I have an allergy to animal fibres, I can understand the draw of a lovely, soft cashmere or qiviut sweater. Changes in manufacturing, consumer demand and such have made once expensive items very affordable. Orchids now cost about $20, and a cashmere sweater can be had for under $100. But what sort of effect is this having? In the case of cashmere, surely there has to be more goats out there now to provide all the fibre required.
The Seattle Times ran in article back in December 2006 about just such a thing: That low-priced cashmere sweater has a hidden cost. The U.S. imports 15 times as many sweaters today as it did a decade ago, and the goats needed to provide the fibre are destroying China’s grasslands. This is allowing the Gobi Desert to expand at an alarming rate, and leads to masive dust storms that have an effect on air pollution as far away as North American. All this because we want some cheap sweaters.
I don’t see this as a problem with China, or a problem with the U.S. I think it is more something that has grown out of our current culture of entitlement. We think cashmere sweaters are nice, we deserve nice things because we work hard/had a rough day/had a crappy childhood/whatever your excuse is. So, we go to the store and demand that the items we want, things that were once luxury items, are sold at a price we can (just) afford. There is no thought about how the increased demand is effecting the world, we just want our reward for being us. And you know what, I’m totally guilty of this. I know I do it. I have a $15 orchid sitting on the dinning room table that I bought because I was feeling a little down one day when the Baby Man was acting up. Goodness only knows what is happening in the world to allow the prices of orchids to drop so much over the past several years. I sure didn’t think about it when I bought it.
Here’s another surprise for you: I don’t have a solution. I’m not sure I even have any suggestions. Maybe, though, I will think a bit more about what I buy, in terms of what I really need. Do I need 15 pairs of socks? Does the baby need yet another toy? Will the world fall apart if we all shop a little less? Maybe we will have a bit less, and maybe we will need to learn to live with less, but is it worth it if it keeps the planet running a little longer? Jobs and goats vs. grasslands and clean air. Today, that is a very difficult decision to make.
Here’s a bit of a related story about expensive suits, earrings and other things we don’t really need but exist anyway: The $43,000 Recession Suit.