Of gum boots and climate change

With disgust, I look at my winter boots. Only a year old, and already the lower rubber part has cracked on both boots, rendering them fairly useless in overflow conditions.

With disgust, I look at my winter boots. Only a year old, and already the lower rubber part has cracked on both boots, rendering them fairly useless in overflow conditions. My winter gum boots are in similar shape: not cracked yet, but the rubber is already so porous that water slowly soaks through. Those boots are two years old.

Glue and duct tape are pressed into service yet again on my winter boots, although this will rub off after a while in the snow. Maybe bicycle tire repair patches might work? No chance to find out until February because there is no way of getting out and buying some until then.

Fuming over the new-looking, yet half-useless boots, I curse the shoddy manufacturing practices of today. Even 15 years ago, you could still buy rubber boots that would last a decade. Good luck finding a pair like that now.

So here I sit, bemoaning my boots, while Copenhagen fills with world leaders who will be wrestling with heavy decisions in the days and weeks to come. Should we keep on making a quick buck and wreck the planet while doing so or should we embrace sustainable practices and foster the survival of other species as well as our own? Hm, tough question indeed … and I find there is a direct link to my gum boots, other than having to wade through more water in the future.

It seems to me that the discussions about emission targets and sustainable energy leave out the thing that feeds it all, namely our consumerism. We’d love to still have three cars per household, constantly get the newest electronic gadgets, keep up with the latest fashion fad, run a plethora of appliances in our houses, avoid manual labour and physical exercise in daily life only to go to the gym later to work off the extra calories – and still live sustainably.

Oh sure, we’re putting in energy-efficient light bulbs, hop on the bike a few times instead of taking the car, but without actually curbing our consumption of goods, will it do much good? It seems to me that it is the manufacturing of all the consumables and the production of the raw materials for them, that is eating up the planet. Maybe it’ll make a difference if a better light bulb, powered by wind energy, shines on our consumerism, maybe not.

Such a self-perpetuating cycle: the more people buy, the more money can be made off them to buy more things with. And the shorter things lasts, like my boots, the sooner people will have to buy more. Likewise, the more people buy, the more money they require. And so we work more, producing this or that, in order to buy more, merrily chewing our way through the biosphere like a beaver through a poplar grove. And no doubt with the same consequences the beaver has to deal with.

And yet, there is such freedom in buying less. Apart from having fewer things that need to be looked after, put somewhere, repaired and replaced, buying less frees us of needing the money to purchase those things with. Fewer bills to pay, fewer debts to work off. Needing less money, we can work less and have more time to spend with friends and family, the luxury of slower pace. Right there, I would think, is a very pleasant change we can make in our lives that relates not only to global warming but also the threat from industry to wild places.

In this global culture of money that has swamped the world and teaches us to look for a big paycheque as the measure of success in our lives, nature has become just the vehicle to generating cash. There are those to whom a stretch of land will only speak in dollar signs, who can see no meaning in a wild mountain valley or a caribou herd other than the potential to line a pocket with cash. And it seems that the structure of our society encourages the rise to power of mainly these same people.

I wonder with the world what will come of those talks in Copenhagen, held by the powerful and the rich. Maybe a faint glimmer of hope for the planet in its current incarnation, maybe the affirmation that money is the ultimate god on whose altar all must be sacrificed. But in the latter, you and I play our daily part as well.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who

lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.