Wednesday, June 7, 2023


 Paul Berton is the editor in chief of the Hamilton Spectator.  "Shopomania" is subtitled "Our Obsession with Possession." The world is facing many difficult problems and over shopping has been identified as a contributor to current and future global concerns.

Seemed a whimsical format, but well thought out.  Anecdotes about shopping peculiarities but also normalities.  How can we build a more sustainable society?  Shopping at one level is a necessity.  We need to do it in order to survive and society needs it to have a functioning economy.   

The Covid 19 pandemic forced new shopping patterns.  Jeff Bezos at Amazon is worth more than some countries.  Small businesses did not fare well with many closing.  J.B. MacKinnon " Since the turn of the current century over consumption has become the biggest environmental threat to the planet."

Shopping is part of many social conversations with some bragging about how smart they are (or wealthy).  Buying forbidden products is exciting for some with ivory being one example.  Buying frenzies are regular events such as Black Friday, Cabbage Patch dolls, toilet paper, etc.

City locations have had a geographic component such as rivers but underlying a lot of decisions has been trade routes.  Now some decisions are based on shopping.  A good example is Dubai which is basically a desert island that has turned itself into a shopping mecca.  

One of the inevitable consequences of increasing consumption has been garbage.  Cities in the wealthier nations are wrestling with landfill sites.  On a bigger scale the wealthier nations had been sending large amounts of garbage to poorer nations.  China in 2018 refused to accept more foreign garbage recognizing health hazards.  Within a year garbage exports to Africa has quadrupled.  The United States in 2019 had sent over  one billion pounds of plastic waste spread over 96 countries.

I thought I was above consumerism, but this book reminds I am not.  At one time I found it very difficult to walk out of a book store if I had not bought a book.  I have curbed that habit, by relying on the library to feed my reading addiction.  I am reluctant to part with any of the books cluttering my home and I still judge people by how much they display books.

Berton contends there have been efforts to deal with the problems of shopping while admitting that our economy is a delicate balancing act.  As individuals we should ask ourselves three questions:  1.  what do we really need?  2.  what do we really want? and 3. how do we achieve these things?

The three R's of the environmental movement are Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.  The emphasis has been more on recycle, but needs to be more on the first two.  One of the drivers of shopping is the desire to own things (guilty), but part of solution could be sharing and renting things you only need occasionally.

One future possibility could be with self driving cars that we could easily rent for the times we need to get out--it should be relatively cheaper and easier on the environment.  The author also suggests that a partial replacement for manufacturing would be repairing goods.  Mankind is approaching various crises that are mostly inter-related and we need to grapple not only as individuals, but as nations.

In his acknowledgements Paul Berton notes that this book necessitated a lot of research, most of which he didn't do.  Of course there are a lot of facts that need to be organized to make a point.  He does a really good job of it.  I am reminded of his father, Pierre Berton whose writings take up a lot of space on my shelves that he was able to hire researchers to gather up information that he organized into easy to read chunks of significant Canadian history.  The thinking and organization of father and son have enriched more than just Canadians.

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