Cut up all your credit cards, it's Buy Nothing Day

This Friday is Buy Nothing Day. Or at least it would be if Kalle Lasn had his way. Mr Lasn, a former advertising executive, is waging a lonely battle against Christmas consumerism. He is taking it one day at a time, first trying to persuade North Americans to keep their wallets and purses closed on the day after Thanksgiving. He plans to extend it day by day until the whole run-up to the festive season is a shopping- free zone.

Of course, he's not getting very far. He has made the most impact in Seattle, where supporters will cut up their credit cards at a shopping mall on Friday and a group of elderly women - the Raging Grannies - will sing their song, "I Ain't Going To Run Up Debt No More" to the tune of "Down By The Riverside".

But he has just scored a PR coup. The main TV channels have refused to screen his 30-second commercial, which features an animated pig and points out that Americans consume 30 times more than Indians. This has given him wide publicity, reaching far more people than would have seen the commercial.

The channels are unrepentant. NBC says the ad is "inimical to our legitimate business interests" while CBS says it was "in opposition to the current economic policy in the US". For some reason, they also turned down an ad asking viewers to participate in "TV Turn-Off Week".

I came across Mr Lasn's campaign on arrival in New York last week for a United Nations brainstorming session on consumerism. Consumption is a great unmentionable in the environmental debate. Most pressure groups focus on cleaning up polluting production. Some rail at population growth in the developing world, conveniently forgetting that booming consumption in the West places a far heavier burden on resources.

The UN's Human Development Report will tackle the issue next year. On the plane, I read a prodigiously researched if didactic book with the unoriginal title Tomorrow's World (Earthscan, pounds 12.95), by three Friends of the Earth staff. The book calculates that Britain, with one per cent of the world's population, consumes five per cent of its steel and aluminium and contributes the same proportion of the impact on global warming. It says that if, by the year 2050, all the world's people lived as we do, they would need several extra earths to provide the resources.

The good news is, economic growth does not depend on present kinds of consumption. Studies show industrial countries could double the standard of living while halving use of resources. Hard-headed business groups say resources could be cut 10 to 20-fold over the next 50 years, creating huge demand for new, environmentally friendly technologies that, in the words of the Harvard Business Review, would be "one of the biggest opportunities in the history of commerce".

One simple first step would be to get a system of labelling environmentally friendly products. Dream on. The EU has been struggling for years to set up a continent-wide eco-label, but has made little progress due to its own incompetence and obstruction by some industries. Frustrated, eight countries have now set up their own schemes, three more are doing so, and Britain may soon join them.

Inevitably, these schemes have different standards. So, green shoppers will have to scan a menagerie of symbols, including the German Blue Angel, the Nordic Swan and, for all I know, a French Frog and British Cow. It's a dog's breakfast, and not even an eco-labelled one.

I learned of this fiasco at a conference where speakers stressed the need to save energy while the lights on an overhead projector were left blazing when it was not in use. But one of them, Professor Graham Ashworth of the Government's Going For Green initiative, had a good reason for eschewing it. He had learned, he said, that "he who acetates is lost!"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most