We went shopping at one of the few thriving malls in the nation, City Creek. It must be one of the most beautiful and thoughtfully engineered malls I have ever seen. Skylights everywhere. Lots of open spaces. A little water flows through the middle of the mall, a simulated creek, the bottom littered with wishful coins.
It’s a Mormon town, Salt Lake City, and the Mormons built City Creek. It’s the only mall I have ever seen that is closed on Sunday for church. On a summer Friday evening, it is bustling with shoppers. Smiling happy families were the norm as Salt Lake is a very pro-family city. Baby bumps and strollers were in abundance.
As the sun went low on the horizon, the skylights made for dramatic shadow play on the walls of the interior of the mall. I just love indirect sunlight, so I took notice of how the sunlight bounced off of the windows on the surrounding high rise buildings onto the floor of the mall. The warm air from outside mixed in with the air underneath the expanse of skylights for a very comfortable environment. It was all a wonder to behold.
We arrived shortly after 6 pm and went to the food court for a light dinner. Some of the restaurants still had lines. The plan was to eat first, then go walking around the mall. Even in the food court, the sunlight seeped in, and indirect light from a cloudless blue sky filled the dining area.
When we finished our meal, we walked thinking that we were going to shop for clothes for our two young girls. At least that was the idea, anyway. My wife suggested we go to H&M, and we did. But she didn’t find anything she liked. And after a half hour of watching my kids treat the racks like playgrounds, we headed out again.
And on the way out, the kids spotted the Disney Store. So we stopped and bought one item for each of them. The younger took a stuffed animal, the elder took a figurine set of cartoon characters. Having scored their bounty, we set out to go home.
As much as I enjoyed myself, I kept thinking of demand. I kept thinking that every time we buy something, that purchase sets off a long chain of events that eventually leads to stress on the earth. When I buy something, that purchase is recorded in a database. That data is analyzed to determine if more products are needed to restock the shelves. And all the way back up through the supply chain, from the store, to the manufacturer to the place where the raw materials are mined and grown, we bump into the earth, the place where we live.
Every time I buy something I think of this. Every time something breaks and I have to replace it, I think of this process, from the earth to the shelf. So I handle my possessions gently. I take care not to break things. I take the things we no longer need to the Savers shop so that the people without can buy the things we no longer need or want. That’s another form of recycling.
I think of what it does to the earth to make a billion stuffed animals. I think of what it does to the earth to make a billion action figures. I imagine what it takes to make a new cup, plate or fork. And when it’s all done, when our lives are done, what becomes of our possessions? Will they be reused? Probably not.
I read daily accounts of how the earth is warming, how sea levels are rising, how the snowcaps are melting. There is some good news. I see that coal has been on a serious decline for the last decade. I see that solar power is rising, steadily, consistently. But I see little good news in the way that we can preserve our ecosystem, even if we manage to hold global warming in abeyance. For everything that we consume imposes stress on the earth.
Even though I had a nice night out with my family, I’m still thinking about what impact we had on the environment to get to the mall, enjoy the mall, and leave the mall with something for our kids. I don’t know the solution yet, but I am hopeful that somebody, in all of our scientific capacities, can figure out a way to deal with all of the waste left over from capitalism.