An Unconventional Environmental Education

In light of Black Friday, I was confronted with a fascinating truth that has been apparent for some time. The rest of the world does not work and consume in the same way as Americans. There are environmental and work laws preventing this frenzy from taking place.

The lifestyle I was accustomed to before moving to France is not accommodated in Europe. For example, the equivalent to Walmart in France closes at 9 p.m. as opposed to uninterrupted service. Also, Black Friday is barely practiced in France because there are strict laws surrounding how many hours an employee can work. The overall sentiment towards this extreme drive for consumption was reflected by the prominent French news source, le Monde. A recent article titled, “Black Friday: Rush for low prices” ends with a scathing comment directed towards Americans: “It’s the dignity of the buyer that ends with being sold at discounted prices.”

This example is a piece to a much more complex economic and social puzzle that illustrates our differing values. Commenting on this cycle of consumption and production, Professor Laurence Joubin, illuminating a common sentiment, stated, “Americans live to work while the rest of the world works in order to live.” There are many factors involved in this issue such as social values of consumption, laws that do not protect or enable workers and a complete disregard for environmental concerns.

These two issues of works rights and environmental concerns have picked up speed in the United States with the recent Walmart strikes. According to PR Watch and Green Business Watch, this consumptive behavior, and corporate enablement, is a part of dangerous American privilege.

For example, when my parents moved to England earlier this year, they were confronted with a huge range of changes. Primarily, they learned to adhere to environmental laws that are never even considered in Bozeman. To call attention to a few, electricity is nationally monitored (but is turned up nationally at tea time); residents are required to sort recycling, compost, and regular trash; and driving is deliberately made extremely expensive in order to decrease national greenhouse emissions and save on space. My mother, Laura Gilkerson, commented that their way of life has been “completely altered,” but not in a way that she regrets.

Certain cities and states in America have begun enforcing recycling and driving laws as space vanishes and landfills grow. As in Europe, the city of Seattle requires a specific system of environmental care. However, in Montana there is a golden opportunity to take care of our open spaces. The cycle of supply and demand will always create obvious problems, but without a public who is motivated to stop living in a bubble, who believes that their extremely high standard of living is acceptable, who believes that they are above taking the bus or walking, this opportunity will be completely squandered.

Especially considering the new engineering building and parking issues on campus, the way we in Bozeman decide to use our precious space will become more important. In England and France, territory and space are tightly planned and controlled as they do not have the luxury of experimentation. However, when considering the parking problem on campus, it is important to realize that it is not normal anywhere else on the globe to drive to and from campus, or to drive to college as an eighteen-year-old.

I have learned a valuable lesson while living in Montpellier, being completely reliant on public transit: If you can’t carry it home, you probably shouldn’t buy it. Food for thought going into the most consumptive, environmentally harmful, season of the year.