A common theme on this blog is that there are enough resources for everyone if we only shared them equally.  This week I was reading a magazine article which discusses some innovative ideas on how to do this better.  The fancy new word for it is apparently “collaborative consumption”.

I have mixed feelings for the so called ‘environmental movement’ which has become trendy in the last decade or so. (All the ‘cool’ cafés in Auckland now use recycled paper for their menus for example.) That is largely because, while of course I want to preserve our planet and all that it in it, it is also this movement that sometimes seems to have an underlying agenda against human life itself.   

However, the idea that we really don’t need to consume as much in the West as we do is one of many arguments that rebuts the notion that there is not enough room for anyone else on the planet. 

The article argues that the concept of sharing dates back to the earliest forms of human interaction.  Sharing comes naturally to us, and it was only cheap energy that allowed us to become much more independent and use more resources.  It uses the simple example of “buying a drill when all you need is a hole”.  It suggests that instead of everyone in a street owning a drill they hardly use, everyone could share one between them.  It makes a lot of sense.

There are many people coming up with innovative ways of reducing waste based on the simple idea that ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’.  The website freefishheads.co.nz was featured on the news here a few months ago and is just one example:

Marara Murray-Haig, who helps manage the Free Fish Heads website, explains: “Thousands of Kiwi fishers dump their unwanted fish heads and frames, and thousands of Kiwis would love to eat them. We simply put the two groups together… Each extra meal gained reduces the need to take more from the sea.”

Along with reducing waste, there is something lovely about helping someone else with no expectation of gaining something in return.  Another example in New Zealand is the website ripenear.me.  The website puts people who want fruit in touch with people who have an excess of it on their fruit trees.  People either give away or sell their surplus produce rather than have it rot and go to waste.  I think this is an excellent idea – especially in areas like Napier, New Zealand where citrus fruit grows so well that some people literally can’t get rid of it during the season – my nana has many friends who have complained to her of this problem! 

Since having a baby I have also been impressed at the concept of the local toy library.  You pay a year’s membership to borrow toys for a couple of weeks.  This makes perfect sense when you have children who love new things but soon lose interest.  Other examples mentioned include carpooling, bartering, and public bike sharing. 

All in all I think these ideas sound like communities becoming more aware of the needs of others.   It also reminds me of an example I have always remembered from a negotiation course I did at law school – two people are fighting for hours over who gets to have an orange, but it is only when they lay their respective needs on the table that they learn that one person wants the rind for a cake, and the other wants the juice – hence they can both win.  The example was to illustrate the use of collaborative, rather than oppositional, negotiation.

So take up the challenge to think of ways to share in your neighbourhood.  Also think twice before you are wooed by the bombardment of advertisements selling you an emotion.  Will the product really make you happy for that long?  Do you really need it?

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...