Have you ever heard the expression “live simply, so others may simply live”?
For the stereotypical UAE resident, that idea may be quite far from the reality of their luxury lifestyle. However, as we learn through almost daily apocalyptic headlines about the impact of climate change, if we don’t change the way we live to be more environmentally friendly, we might not have any chance of living at all in a few decades.
Fortunately, living in better harmony with the planet isn’t just good for the species, it can be fantastic for our bank accounts as well. When we save the planet, we save money, too.
It all comes down to our consumerist culture. It’s right there in the word “consume.” When we buy things, we are using up the resources of the planet, literally consuming chunks of the environment that are difficult, if not impossible, to replace. Every shirt you buy takes gallons of oil and water and pounds of chemicals and dyes to produce. According to the Water Footprint Network, the global average for producing just one kilogram of cotton is 10,000 liters of water and that doesn’t even include the manufacturing process for turning the cloth into clothing. The manufacture of polyester uses 70 million barrels of oil a year, according to Slow Fashion brand Zady. The bigger the item, the more resources it takes. Imagine what it takes to produce a five-bedroom villa.
Then you have to consider that most of the stuff we buy eventually ends up in the trash, which goes to landfill.
What it boils down to is that when we buy things, we are harming the planet. The less we buy, the less harm we do. With this in mind, each of us needs to do some soul-searching about how much is enough. How big a car do you need? How many clothes can you actually wear? How many rooms can you live in? How much food is healthy and beneficial to eat?
It’s not all doom and gloom. There are many real, tangible ways to save money to reduce damage to the planet. The first and easiest is to buy things second-hand. While the UAE has a few thrift shops, there are an increasing number of online markets like Dubizzle where you can find everything from second-hand suits to cars to apartments, all costing a fraction of what they would cost new from the mall. I once bought a used fridge for Dh200, and it took me 30 minutes to find it, contact the buyer, go check it out and put it in my car (so I saved time, as well).
This is also a big win for the environment: buying secondhand clothes, for example, takes just three percent of the energy required to manufacture new clothing. Selling things you don’t use any more on Dubizzle (or local Facebook groups) can also be a great way to make money and keep stuff out of overflowing landfills.
The second major way to save money and the planet is to simply not buy things. Impulse purchasing and advertising are two incredibly powerful forces that make us spend far too much money on things we didn’t even know we needed and were living quite happily without. When I feel the strong urge to buy things, I wait three days. If I still want it after three days, I’ll try to find it secondhand but if I can’t, I’ll buy it. I find that the three-day waiting period makes me realize that I don’t really need whatever it is, and my life functions just fine without it.
Third, minimizing meat and processed food consumption is a fantastic way to help the planet, our health and our finances. A diet of whole foods that are not over-processed, heavy in veggies, fruit, and beans is much cheaper than buying imported steak and cheese. When I changed my diet to plant-based, I cut my food budget in half, and I lost 16 centimeters off my waist in just three-and-a-half months. Meat production uses 10 times the amount of water, land and chemicals over plant-based foods. Whole foods and a plant-based diet lower our odds of getting heart disease, diabetes and cancer later in life, which will hopefully lower my long-term medical costs as well.
Certainly, spending money can be enjoyable and there are definitely things you can buy that can help minimize your environmental impact, such as electric cars and solar panels. It’s important to try to find environmentally friendly alternatives to more traditional consumer goods.
But it’s also really satisfying to look at an ever-increasing bank balance, and know that the money you’re saving is also helping to preserve the world’s ability to sustain human life.
• This article was first published in June 2019
Zach Holz is an American English teacher living and working in Dubai. He writes about financial freedom and other happy things at his blog The Happiest Teacher.