Consuming less is our best strategy for saving the planet—but can we do it? In this thoughtful and surprisingly optimistic book, journalist J. B. MacKinnon investigates how we may achieve a world without shopping.
We can’t stop shopping. And yet we must. This is the consumer dilemma.
The economy says we must always consume more: even the slightest drop in spending leads to widespread unemployment, bankruptcy, and home foreclosure.
The planet says we consume too much: in America, we burn the earth’s resources at a rate five times faster than it can regenerate. And despite efforts to “green” our consumption—by recycling, increasing energy efficiency, or using solar power—we have yet to see a decline in global carbon emissions.
Addressing this paradox head-on, acclaimed journalist J. B. MacKinnon asks, What would really happen if we simply stopped shopping? Is there a way to reduce our consumption to earth-saving levels without triggering economic collapse? At first this question took him around the world, seeking answers from America’s big-box stores to the hunter-gatherer cultures of Namibia to communities in Ecuador that consume at an exactly sustainable rate. Then the thought experiment came shockingly true: the coronavirus brought shopping to a halt, and MacKinnon’s ideas were tested in real time.
Drawing from experts in fields ranging from climate change to economics, MacKinnon investigates how living with less would change our planet, our society, and ourselves. Along the way, he reveals just how much we stand to gain: An investment in our physical and emotional wellness. The pleasure of caring for our possessions. Closer relationships with our natural world and one another. Imaginative and inspiring, The Day the World Stops Shopping will embolden you to envision another way.
J. B. MacKinnon is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, National Geographic, and the Atlantic, as well as the Best American Science and Nature Writing anthologies. He is also the author of four books of nonfiction, including the bestselling Plenty (with Alisa Smith), widely recognized as a catalyst of the local foods movement. He lives in Vancouver, Canada.
“MacKinnon has a bricklayer’s talent for achieving beauty out of stacks of facts and statistics. . . . In wrestling with the realities of incremental change, examining our collective consumption and his own, MacKinnon says a great deal about what it is to be human during this moment on Earth, and how to live a meaningful life as one consumer among many. Surely part of the trick is to dare to imagine, as MacKinnon does, a scenario in which our prognosis improves, even a little.”
— Sierra Magazine
“A well-researched and provocative analysis offering hope and optimism for our future."
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"A journalist crafts an eloquent call to scale back shopping and consumption in wealthy countries, thereby allowing our exhausted planet a chance to heal and regenerate."
— Shelf Awareness
“Witty and erudite…. Expertly showing the complex relationship between consumer culture and nature, this insightful account offers a starting point for change (and optimism).”
— Library Journal
“Well-researched and stimulating. Readers will be galvanized to make changes in their own buying habits.”
— Publishers Weekly
“J.B. MacKinnon’s The Day the World Stops Shopping is a welcome and rare mix: a strong environmental argument and a jaunty picaresque. For the former, MacKinnon makes a convincing case that we need to shop less now. Green consumerism, in MacKinnon’s telling, isn’t just about buying ecologically-sound stuff or recycling our rubbish. It’s about buying many fewer things, leaving us so much less to recycle in the first place. You will want to buy this book and after you read it, little else.”
— Alissa Quart, author of Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America and Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers
"Dissecting the dilemma at civilization’s heart—the burden that reckless growth heaps upon the faltering Earth—J.B. MacKinnon lays out a wealth of knowledge and wisdom in a gripping, page-turning read. With wit, precision, and startling insights from around the world, he looks deeply into what we have done, and might do so much better. A model of clarity and grace, The Day the World Stops Shopping is one of the most important and well-written books I have read."
— Ronald Wright, author of A Short History of Progress
"A provocative thought experiment that asks us to imagine what currently seems unthinkable, this is a beautifully written and rigorously researched revelation, an extraordinary creative journey to a place we urgently need to go. Full of hope and deep thought, unassuming and devoid of preaching, it is an exciting and truly inspiring read. I couldn’t put it down."
— Joel Bakan, author of The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power and The New Corporation: How “Good” Corporations are Bad for Democracy
"In a large pool of often simplistic manuals for simple living, this book stands out for its curiosity, humanity and genuinely global appreciation of why we consume too much and what to do about it."
— Frank Trentmann, author of Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First