Saving the Planet

April 17, 2012

Over the past couple of decades, there has been increasing concern over the future of our planet. Even curriculums at schools have been adapted to reinforce the topics of endangered species, global warming and green economies.

Right now, the topic is on in full swing in our household. My twins are just finishing their unit of study at school called 'Here today, gone tomorrow' about all the plants and animals that are near extinction because of our actions, culminating with a project on their chosen animal. And my youngest has just started a new unit called 'Extinction is forever' and was found destroying our garden with her little play date in search of dinosaur bones.

In all the current emphasis on the environment, I saw the opportunity to rub in the message of my own personal mission against excess consumerism. I sat down with them to explain, yet again, the destruction of our environment and the natural systems of our planet through excess demand and insatiable greed, hoping that this time it would ring truer given that it was being reinforced at school.

They nodded in agreement and were deeply moved by how painful the lives of many beautiful wild beasts had become thanks to our actions and how their extinction affected their eco systems and a healthy planet. So far, so good.

But then yesterday, “Mom, I really do need those new Converses – everyone has them,” in a very matter of fact manner from my son, as though the last part of his sentence was all the convincing that was required.

“Well you don’t need them, you want them and isn’t that what we had decided to distinguish between?” - me, trying to remind him of his promises. “I need them too because they are so cool and – everyone has them,” a little stuck on his great argument and confused about the distinction he was supposed to make.

“I want them too!” cries my littlest and when her sister nudges her, she hurriedly changes it to, “I need them too!”

“But remember the sweet snow leopards that you are learning about - they might not become extinct if we didn’t buy so many shoes!” A far connection I know, but I was hoping it would work.

“Mom, they’re so cool – you have to see them!” insists my son.

“I know!” from the littlest who has never seem them but is living vicariously through her brother’s words.

“Please, please, pleeease…” in tandem.

I waver, but hang on to my guns and finally give a definitive “No.”

I realise it is tough in this day and age for our kids to somehow become immune to the consistent ‘shopping is happiness’ message that our media unabashedly promotes. Ads are carefully crafted to not only excite them about the product, but also to show them that they are not okay until they have the latest object of desire.

Consumption has turned into a way of life. Marketing, too, has changed its ways. Things are specifically made not to last. Packaging on products is re-designed and a few bells and whistles added so that by simply looking at them, it is enough to find out whether the person has the latest gadget, gizmo, fashion or not. Things are made to become obsolete and out-dated within a short period of time, and the consumption cycle goes round and round at dizzying speed.

But I also do realise that unless I do my bit to counter the powerful messages they receive from every angle around them, they will live their lives without a conscience. We cannot afford to be addicted to consumerism. In just three decades, we have run through one-third of the planet’s natural resources.

The earth has only limited resources to support human society and all its demands. Given the oodles of us roaming the planet, and our insatiable and unending desires, this cannot continue if we are to have a planet at all!

When the disgruntled duo had left my room, I wrote down Goethe’s saying 'Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do' and posted it on the refrigerator as a reminder for them every time they came up with yet another needless desire.

At the dinner table the Converses came up again and I smugly pointed to the saying. My son understood and refrained from arguing further. My youngest rebelled by refusing dinner and was excused from the dinner table.

This morning four little words were scribbled angrily on the refrigerator post:

“I hate snow leopards”!

Muscat resident Homaira Kabir writes about her thoughts and everyday experiences