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The Day the World Stops Shopping

J. B. MacKinnon

  • Review by Betty Muise

  • 352 pages

  • Harper Collins

  • Read September 2021

Written with curiosity and openness, this book explores a not-so-simple question: “What happens if the world stopped shopping?” J. B Mackinnon thoughtfully takes on the paradox of the significant environmental consequences of shopping and our deep dependence on consumption and growth to provide jobs, create business opportunities, help us buy homes, and in so many ways, power our economy and our personal and societal wealth.  Given the mounting severity of global warming and relentless destruction and disruption of natural systems, this book is deeply needed and (serendipitously) timely with the global pandemic as a test case for lower consumption.    

MacKinnon openly explores both sides of the consumption paradox, first considering the whole “supply-chain” of consequences if we stop shopping.  Using fast fashion as a case study, the disruption from buying less would, at least initially, be significant in terms of disrupting the livelihoods of those employed by the industry but also in reducing harmful environmental impacts.

In the second section of the book, MacKinnon examines and explains the profound environmental consequences of our shopping, some aspects of which, I hadn’t really considered before, like:

  • The hidden, embedded consumption that starts (and keeps going) when we buy things like air conditioners

  • So-called “green-products” or green consumption hasn’t helped (at least not to date).  To achieve environmental benefit, we have to consume LESS

  • The staggering hidden energy use associated with digitizing of our economy. We don’t see it when we post, share, browse, download, etc. but the planet feels it

  • Planned obsolescence IS a thing…and it started early with the electric light bulb and continues today with items like cellphones

The carbon footprint of consumption is significant.  Every 100 dollars of consumption releases, on average, 25 kg of carbon and its worse in poorer countries.

MacKinnon summarizes some of the benefits of individuals shopping less: more time for reflection, reading, yourself in general, less clutter and financial stress as well as the knowledge that one is contributing less to the global ecological crisis.  He also provides ideas that would help move us from a consumer to a deconsumer society including the labelling of goods to indicate their durability, taxes that favour repair and reuse over disposability, and shorter work weeks to allow for fuller employment.

In the final segment, MacKinnon takes us to Sado Island, Japan where the population and the economy dropped by half, providing a glimpse into what a lower-consuming society might look like.  He portrays sadness, decay, but also resilience, a strengthened community and contentment.    

This book really made me think and deepened my commitment to reducing consumption.  Rather than offering preachy, must do instructions, by asking questions and openly exploring the contradictions and difficulties of consuming less, MacKinnon plants a thinking-seed and lets the reader make their own, (for me anyway), very powerful case for consuming less.