Black Friday: A signal of ecological illiteracy

If we address unbridled consumerism and resource exploitation, it needs to be done through learning, transformation, a change in behaviour and a drive toward ecological literacy.

Consumers can't anticipate the consequences of their behavior

Shoppers compete to purchase retail items on Black Friday in Wembley, north London November 28, 2014. (Luke MacGregor/Reuters)

On Friday, I sat at my counter with my children, ushering them through a daily process of eating, packing lunches, music practice and often, special conversation. 

I cherish the morning, when I have time to develop relationships with these small humans.

They might have a different opinion.

As we went through our routine, we listened to the radio. 

My six-year-old daughter won’t let a morning pass without the news. On Friday, however, I had to shut it off. We were berated with story after story about people shopping. 

People in Winnipeg, we were told, stood in lines at 4:30 a.m., along with a woman from The Pas, to buy five televisions. 

In the U.K., people assaulted each other over underpants. 

Throughout the United States, there were accounts of what has become the normalized insanity of Black Friday.

The stories revealed that we are overlooking a critical literacy. Schools teach reading and writing, but they also need to teach earth. Parents, elders and all educators need to teach and foster an ecological literacy.

On Friday morning, the media celebrated Western consumerism without question. 

For me, this cemented a need to shift our collective thinking regarding how we relate to each other and how we relate to all systems on earth.

Tomorrow, our species will produce more carbon and greenhouse gases than we did today. Should this not be the headline?

Already people are rolling their eyes, annoyed with another naive blogger who wants to protect the environment. 

Whenever I bring up ecological issues with peers, I get a response similar to “Well, we have to grow our economy. You can’t just lay off people in Fort McMurray.” 

But according to Johan Rockstrom of Stockholm University, we have already surpassed three of nine planetary boundaries, including climate change, ocean acidification and nitrogen cycles. 

The research is staring us in the face, yet we continue to consume and our behaviour is supported by the media.

Similarly, we all know that driving is bad for all systems on earth. 

Decades ago, vehicles began to shrink, and that trend was welcomed by environmentalists. 

But in 2014, vehicles are gargantuan. 

On morning runs, I am bullied to the side of the road by raging Hummers, Land Rovers, F-150s and Escalades.

Presumably the owners understand that a heavy vehicle is not efficient: It uses more resources than a small vehicle, and produces more greenhouse gases.

Black Friday and SUVs signal a regression in our society. 

Slavoj Zizek, international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities and contributor to the Guardian, posits that we have collectively and psychologically ignored the ecological crisis; we have somehow normalized the fact that we are trashing the planet. 

“We know the [ecological] catastrophe is possible, probable even, yet we do not believe it will really happen,” Zizek wrote.

The remedy for social issues, including those regarding seat belts, drunk driving and recycling has been driven through education and schooling.

If we address unbridled consumerism and resource exploitation, it needs to be done through learning, transformation, a change in behaviour and a drive toward ecological literacy. 

Ecologically literate citizens question Black Friday and the overconsumption of resources. They create solutions that drive society toward a sustained future.

As educators, ecological literacy is the new and immediate imperative. 

We are currently educating learners in a model that has created a culture of consumerism and nihilistic behaviour. 

Perhaps the model needs to be changed and our focus needs to be on cultivating a society that is able to anticipate the consequences of its behaviour. 

Currently, we are seeing a glimpse of this new model in Burnaby, B.C. where energy infrastructure company Kinder Morgan spent Black Friday dismantling a drilling site on Burnaby Mountain.

Matt Henderson is a teacher at St. John's-Ravenscourt School in Winnipeg. Find him on Twitter at @henderson204.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?