Thrifting is one way to empower young people about the climate

6 Desember 2022

Photo: PxHere/Markus Winkler

By Alina Clough

We have passed another population landmark on the planet: eight billion people. What with the current climate alarmism many young people still believe that this is a bad thing.

Gen Z’s panic over the future of the environment has warranted investigation into whether “eco-anxiety” needs its own clinical diagnostic criteria. Anxiety is significantly fueled by general feelings of a lack of self-efficacy, and climate anxiety is no exception.

Politicians who have invested in state-level climate programs would push the narrative that grassroots change is useless and climate solutions are out of the hands of the average person. This only worsens young peoples’ fears. By maintaining the idea that effective climate action must come from top-down legislation, we convince young people that their best hope for effecting change is throwing soup on paintings and gluing themselves to museum walls.

Supporting sustainability doesn’t have to mean seeing people — and ourselves — as walking threats to the environment. On the contrary, a number of climate-friendly Gen-Z trends promise to effect real change, no matter how many people walk the earth.

The ethos of thrifting, community re-use and right-to-repair programs have already evolved from just budget friendly to climate friendly, and are increasingly being used to connect us with our neighbors. By investing in community-level initiatives, we can foster a view of conservation that supports both the planet and our fellow eight billion.

We could convert this generation’s well-intended concernw from being psychologically destructive to environmentally productive by reframing something Gen Z already loves: thrifting. While moms of the 90s might have seen their local Goodwill as a begrudged necessity for household budgeting, younger generations see used clothe not as trash but as treasure.

Thrifting is growing at 11 times the rate of the retail clothing industry and is projected to reach $77 billion by 2025. Its appeal reflects an ethos connecting personal decisions to sustainability, part of a larger “slow fashion” movement that encourages its followers to think before they buy. The fashion industry creates double the CO2 of flight and maritime transport combined, so a more sustainable approach to fashion is no small step toward both landfill reduction and climate action.

Encouragingly, this approach doesn’t need to stop at fashion or thrift stores. Activists and entrepreneurs are beginning to expand grassroots movements using community-based giving to curb consumption and bring people together in their conservation efforts. Buynothing, an initiative that links geographically-bound community giving through Facebook groups, started in an effort to stave off pervasive plastics.

Now with up to 6.5 million members, it has moved beyond single-track climate action, emphasizing “people over stuff” in its mission and using household item hand-offs as opportunities for neighborly introductions. Similarly Freecycle, now in over 100 countries, started as a way to keep garbage out of landfills but now says it seeks to instill “generosity of spirit as they strengthen local community ties and promote environmental sustainability and reuse.”

Regardless of whether people end up drawn to these groups for environmentalism, for their neighbors, or just for free stuff, the end result is hyper local groups that feel more strongly rooted in their community values amidst highly transient consumer culture.

Climate action and sustainability are marathons, not sprints. Even though our environmental challenges are large, they can have local solutions. If we want to make progress, we’ll need a movement that lasts. This means combatting doomism by highlighting the snowball effect of many small changes, and the positive impact individuals can have right from home.

The grassroots initiatives taking hold prove people don’t need to be legislated into loving where they live. Fostering the self-efficacy we need to fight climate anxiety and climate change alike can be as simple as supporting healthy communities. With the right home-grown connections, climate progress can come from every neighborhood, not just central governments.

Alina Clough is an Energy & Environment Fellow with Young Voices and the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).

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