Getting people to do what they don’t want to do

The Big Issue with trying to get people to buy less is ‘Why would you want to stop doing something that you like?’

Shopping is great.  It’s a fun, social activity.  What you buy makes you happy because you buy the latest


So, getting people to do less of this is going to be difficult.  However, things can be easier if people believe that the benefit of not buying things is greater than the benefit of buying things.  And there are many reasons which could be used – not causing climate change, protecting the planet for future generations, saving money, being a canny shopper.  These are all valid, but none of them are interesting.  They are all about ‘not’, because fundamentally, buying less is about ‘not’, which runs against the culture  which is all about ‘yes’.   There’s no big idea in here that I want to sign up to.  If you think about consumerism, it’s linked to the post-WW2 imperative for economic growth.  One caused the other.  We need to grow, so you buy stuff because that stimulates growth.  We get more stuff and the economy gets bigger.  Buying and having things is linked to the success of the country and buying and having more things feels good. What’s not to like about that?

We are now trying to reverse the spiral.  The Climate Change Agenda (which trumps the  Economic Imperative) states that we have to consume less.  In order to do this, you have to make buying less and having less feel better than buying and having more.  This is a massive volte face and will take years to turn around. 

It’s interesting to look at other parallels to understand how this has been done before.  Two examples are anti-smoking and wearing seatbelts.


With these two examples, we know that smoking or not wearing your seatbelt has a significant personal downside risk.  You can die a slow and painful death from cancer or be flung through the windscreen.  For a start, there no significant downside risk to not shopping, unless you get very literal about ‘I’m going to die if I can’t buy that pair of shoes”.

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