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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics


Friday, December 20, 2013

A New Environmental Rallying Cry: Remember the Shoe Man

When it comes to rallying cries, nothing works better than a call to remember something. “Remember the Maine” worked like a charm as a rallying cry during the Spanish American war. “Remember Pearl Harbor” worked even better as a rallying cry during World War II. Now there is a possibility for a new rallying cry in the war against global warming, overconsumption, and ecological ruin. The new rallying cry: remember the Shoe Man.

The Shoe Man is a term we may use for the poor troubled soul who recently had to accompany his girlfriend on an excessive shopping trip. After buying lots of expensive stuff, the woman wanted to go to one more shoe store to buy more shoes. The man complained that the woman already had enough shoes to last a lifetime. After arguing with the woman, the man then jumped to his death from the seventh floor of a shopping mall, crashing into a display counter on the ground level, as described here.

The death of the Shoe Man is a kind of miniature metaphor that may symbolize the peril of our consumerist creed, the unofficial religion preached to us by many a slick television commercial. The Shoe Man died unexpectedly, as a side-effect of reckless overconsumption and runaway consumerism. The same thing may happen to many millions of humans if man continues his current ways, in reckless disregard of the ecological limits of our planet. We may shop and spend our way to an environmental hell, as our planet gets hotter, our water supplies diminish, and our oceans get more and more acidic.

Every time you buy something, it increases your annual carbon footprint, which is basically how much you are contributing to the global warming problem. The carbon footprint of a pair of shoes is between 20 and 200 pounds. Buying a pair of leather shoes might easily be the equivalent of dumping your body weight in carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Sadly we do not have imprinted on our brains the message “Respect the planet's limits.” Madison Avenue has imprinted on our brains the mindless message: for the rest of your life, accumulate more and more and more stuff.

Consider the common case of a person who labors long hours to fill up closets with clothes worn only a few times, and fill up a kitchen with appliances not used very often. Such a person is rather like the silly squirrels who spend so much of their time working very hard to gather acorns, and then end up using only 25% of the acorns they store.

But perhaps the Shoe Man may not have died in vain. We can use his death to help keep in check the kind of reckless overconsumption that pushed him over the edge. Here's how it could work.

When your husband asks for some cash to buy another electronic gadget he doesn't need, just because the gadget is the hot new thing, say to him: remember the Shoe Man.

When your wife asks for the credit card to buy another outfit she doesn't need, just because all her friends are dressing that way, say to her: remember the Shoe Man.

When your child asks for some money to buy some useless plastic thing he doesn't need, mainly because he can make a picture of it and use it as a cool Facebook post, say to him: remember the Shoe Man.

And if any of these people ask you, “Who is the Shoe Man?” you can answer like this: the Shoe Man was a poor guy who jumped to his death from the seventh floor of a mall, because his lady love bought too many shoes – don't make me into the next Shoe Man! 

shoe man