Steering clear of the D-word

Disposable: it's not really a word, says David Suzuki

A kerfuffle is raised every time a comedian, politician or businessperson uses the F-word or the N-word. I understand that. But to me, the D-word is the most obscene. I’m referring to ‘disposable.’ Let me explain.

When I was a boy, we were poor and it was a big deal when my parents bought me a new coat. I would quickly outgrow it, and it would be passed on to my sister. My parents boasted that three of their children had worn the same coat. They weren’t concerned (nor were we kids) about gender differences or fashion; it was the coat’s ability to keep the wearer warm and its durability (now there’s a good D-word) that mattered.

We now have an economic system in which companies must not only show a profit each year, they must strive for constant growth. If a product is rugged and durable, it creates a problem for even the most successful business – a diminishing and eventually saturated market. Of course, any product will eventually wear to a point where it can no longer be patched, so the market will continue to exist to replace worn products.

But that’s not good enough in a competitive world driven by the demand for relentless growth in profits and profitability. So companies create an aura of obsolescence, where today’s product looks like a piece of junk when next year’s model comes out. We’ve lived with that for decades in the auto industry.

I’ve always said a car is simply a means of getting from point A to point B, but it’s become far more than that. Some cars convey a sense of power, and cars become safe havens when loaded with sound systems, TVs and computers. Some people even name their cars, talk to them, and care for them like babies – until next year’s model comes along.

It’s similar with clothing, even with outdoor attire beloved by environmentalists. We have a proliferation of choice based on colour, sexiness, and other properties that have nothing to do with function. I don’t understand torn blue jeans as a fashion statement, and I wish people would wear their pants till they spring their own leaks rather than deliberately incorporating tears. All of this is designed to get us to toss stuff away as quickly as possible so the economy can keep spinning.

Nowhere is this more obvious than with electronic gadgets. When my wife lost the cord to charge her cellphone, she went to seven stores. None had the necessary plug for her phone. Finally she went back to the retailer that sold her brand only to be told that the cords for the new models don’t fit the old ones and hers was so old that it wasn’t even on the market any more. It was a year-and-a-half old.

I remember when I was given the first laptop computer on the market. It had an LED display screen that let me see three lines at a time and a chip that stored about three pages of writing. But it was small and had word processing and a port to send my pieces by telephone. It revolutionized my life. I was writing a weekly column for the Globe and Mail and was able to send articles from Russia and even from remote towns in the Amazon.

A couple of years later a much better laptop hit the market. It had an LCD screen, a huge memory, and it displayed almost a full page. I got one. A year later, I got a new model, and then half a year after that, another. Each served me well, but every year, new ones would appear that were faster, smaller and lighter, with longer-life batteries and more bells and whistles.

Trying to get one fixed or upgraded, though, was difficult. As with digital cameras, I was repeatedly told that it would cost more to fix an old laptop than to buy a new model. This is madness in a finite world with finite resources. At the very least, products should be created so components can be pulled apart and reused until they wear out.

You see why I think the D-word is so obscene?

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Just Posted

Saanich’s provisional police budget under fire

Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria question why budget requests are rising as crime drops

Victoria Guard Commander leads group of snowmen after ceremony cancelled

Lt.-Cmdr. Michael Irwin wasn’t going to let a bit of snow strip him of his duties

Number of adults living with parents has doubled since 1995

9 per cent of the adult population living with one or more parent

Beauty Day spreads ‘brightness’ at Our Place

Volunteer hairdressers, estheticians, even a tarot card reader took part in the Victoria event

VIDEO: Canada’s flag turns 54 today

The maple leaf design by George Stanley made its first appearance Feb. 15, 1965

Eight cases of measles confirmed in Vancouver outbreak

Coastal Health official say the cases stem from the French-language Ecole Jules Verne Secondary

Plecas won’t run in next election if B.C. legislature oversight reforms pass

B.C. Speaker and Abbotsford South MLA says he feels ‘great sympathy’ for Jody Wilson-Raybould

Workshop with ‘accent reduction’ training cancelled at UBC

The workshop was cancelled the same day as an email was sent out to international students

Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell accused of sexual touching

Accuser went to police, interviewed by Britian’s Daily Telegraph

Man in Vancouver Island hotel shooting pleads guilty to second-degree murder

Brandon Tyler Woody, from Victoria, to be sentenced in late March in B.C. Supreme Court

Judge rules Abbotsford home must be sold after son tries to evict mom

Mom to get back down payment and initial expenses

Trump officially declares national emergency to build border wall

President plans to siphon billions from federal military construction and counterdrug efforts

Snow turns to slush, rain as it warms up across B.C.’s south coast

Some areas are already covered by more than half a metre of snow following three separate storms

Most Read