We Need to Talk About Our Demand Chain Crisis

close up of a bike chain on a green bicycle

How the global supply chain broke 

Many links make up the global supply chain. Like a bike chain, when one link breaks, the chain no longer functions and you have to either push your bike home or hitch a ride. You will arrive but you’ll arrive late. Several links in the supply chain have broken during Covid.

Lockdowns in Asia both at the beginning of Covid and later during the Delta surge slowed manufacturing down. Floods in China this year further disrupted production. Those same floods also disrupted global shipping, as did the floods in Europe—floods exacerbated by climate change.

Once the cargo ships carrying goods from abroad do reach our shores, they may have to wait up to four weeks to dock due to labor shortages. A trucking labor shortage has further added to the supply chain bottleneck, with goods sitting in cargo containers and no one to transport them. And even if trucks can haul them, some of those trucks have nowhere to go, due to companies having ordered more goods than usual to hedge against looming shortages. This overbuying has led to a shortage of available warehouse storage.

How Americans have responded

Lower production during Covid has done nothing to dampen an American shopping frenzy, which in itself exacerbates shortages. Sparked by stimulus checks and the inability to spend on travel or eating out or, well, doing anything, we’ve shopped. Many of us, hunkered down at home, transformed our living rooms into workspaces, buying new computers and printers or interior paint to freshen the walls or bookshelves to display our impressive tomes during Zoom meetings.

Between September 2020 and September 2021, our spending on retail goods excluding food service increased by 12 percent. We decluttered like mad at the start of Covid, seemingly only to order more clutter, delivered conveniently to our doorstep.

So what products will we have trouble finding when holiday shopping this year? Shortages have affected pretty much everything, from running shoes to toys to bikes to electronics to cars (irksome for the person who buys cars as gifts).

Fix the demand chain

I’m fortunate to have avoided any effects of the supply chain meltdown. My livelihood doesn’t rely directly on the global supply chain and I haven’t needed to buy any products affected by shortages. A collapsing global supply chain does pose problems—unemployment as the system remains stalled and high inflation as prices rise, for example—which would affect the economy and thus everyone.

However, a collapsing global supply chain pales in comparison to collapsing life support systems characterized by more pandemics, more floods, more droughts and more fires. A re-engineered supply chain will help mitigate the far greater problem of climate collapse, from which no one is safe. Some ideas:

On-shore manufacturing

Bring manufacturing back to our shores and produce locally where the products will be consumed. This will slash transport emissions, curb the need for refrigeration (of flowers and food, for example) and reduce excessive packaging. It will also create jobs. Our current centralized system puts the entire system at risk, much like a farm that plants the identical monocrop year after year. Diverse crops reduce the risk that blight will destroy the entire harvest. 

Make polluters pay

Reward companies that create products that last and penalize those that profit by baking obsolescence into their wares. Extended producer responsibility (EPR) rightfully places the responsibility for—and the costs of—disposal with manufacturers and retailers who sell wasteful products. Legislate right-to-repair laws and end big tech’s lobbying against them so consumers can repair their broken phones rather than buying new ones every two years.

Nurture a culture of repair

Eliminate subsidies for destroyers (fossil fuel companies) and give even a mere sliver of that money to creators to start regenerative businesses—cobblers to repair shoes, tailors to repair clothing, handy people to operate fix-it shops. Build tool-lending libraries to enable people to mend their own stuff and reuse centers to sell unwanted goods that still have life in them—construction materials, textiles, furniture and so on.

We need to reimagine waste as a resource and find ways to put those resources back into the system. The money saved on hauling items to the landfill and managing our current one-way waste system could also subsidize these ventures.

End throwaway culture

Make throwaway culture as taboo as smoking. The marketer’s dream of throwaway everything keeps demand high for consumer products. Consumers become dependent on throwaway items—paper towels, plastic wrap, coffee pods and so on—and must constantly buy more, much like a subscription service for which we’ve unwittingly signed up.

Make the mad men sane

Regulate advertising and marketing of shoddy goods, food that makes us sick, greenwashed nonsense and ads targeted at children for junk toys that train them at a young age to embrace materialism.

Teach life skills

Reintroduce hands-on skills in the classroom for all genders. Teach kids useful skills that will serve them well in the changing world—permaculture gardening, foraging, cooking, preserving, sewing, carpentry, and so on. Make making great again. And encourage rather than discourage kids to pursue trades and farming. The soil needs young people to regenerate it.

We’ve reached the proverbial fork in the road. One path leads to disaster, the other to a habitable world. The supply chain of old will not serve us. As we retool the supply chain, we must also change the demand side.

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7 Replies to “We Need to Talk About Our Demand Chain Crisis”

  1. Thank you, Anne-Marie. This is a superb summary of ways we can easily find the upside in supply chain disruptions. I couldn’t agree more that on-shore production of just about everything would make a tremendous difference in our carbon impact, create and keep jobs, and provide more security. Meanwhile, cultivating what we can in our own homes is a sure path to connectedness and conservation. I’m so grateful for the inspiration you provide!

    1. Thank you very much for the kind words, Valerie. I really appreciate it 🙂

  2. Thank you Anne Marie. All excellent ideas. Although I am of the mind that we will never change the course of the current global elite who control Big everything. We must build an alternative society that embraces all the ideas that you have espoused in your blog. To this end, I have joined Australian Sovereignty Alliance whose aim is just that. The movement is spreading around the globe. Well done.

  3. Along with “Nurture a culture of repair”: Nurture a culture of resilience, which generally means not pushing for maximum efficiency.

    Overpopulation is another major factor that, as long as we don’t talk about it, we can’t solve.

  4. Great “common sense” ideas. We need more people thinking like this. Unfortunately, many people don’t want to change their ways. People thinking like you need to be running our governments!

  5. Yes. OMG, yes!

  6. duguidsl@gmail.com says: Reply

    I re-read this post again, I had been researching products all the sources and supply chain of every product we bring into our home as to their sources, and supply chains. However, today, after getting a very nice grocery staff member call me about my grocery order due today from a very friendly local grocery store staff member, and saying she wasn’t supposed to call anyone about their orders, as they were slammed. However, she was worried about me as she knew I had had surgery (Nov. 1 and have been NWB R L/E since then and thus unable to drive), as she felt that they would be sending me an order almost devoid of protein. I thanked her immensely as I have to eat a diet high in protein due to my diabetes and I have had difficulties getting my teenagers who are all for fighting climate change (!?) to eat more plant proteins, legumes, and beans. We were able to up my order of local salmon, as during a flood fish are still plenty, a pot roast, and some cheap marinated beef they had available. Otherwise they were completely out of turkey, chicken, and beef as of 11 am today.

    I knew last weekend when I hear the pump was failing and a breached dyke in Abbotsford for the Sumas Plains from the Nooksack River in northern Washington, that we were in trouble. We are in are declared state of emergency as I know you are aware. I had read that the government had issued an advisory for dairy farmer’s to dump their milk last night. I was saddened for the dairy farmer’s and their economic issues. I was able to manage 2 L of milk in my order, I did not want to take more than we needed. Their are non-dairy options for me, I have not tried to make almond pulp yet.

    I was aghast when I saw the way the consumers of lower mainland Vancouver and Vancouver Island gasoline acted in the wake of gas restrictions made by the BC government 2 days ago. I am deeply saddened that there has been loss of life and one person still missing. I am deeply saddened for the agriculture disaster, and inspired by all the videos of people trying to save the lives of cattle, horses, pets, and poultry. I am upset for the largest egg growing region in Canada. I am upset that it has been announced today that insurance companies will not pay for damage done by mudslides. I am saddened for the many homeowners who watched their rivers taken away by raging rivers, or are now returning to their homes in boats to 1/2 sunken homes. For many of these homeowners, they had evacuated for forest fires in the summer. The governments shelled out for economic recovery for Covid-19 and now we will need to help so many people suffering from issues from the flooding and mud slides.

    Everyone knows it is from climate change, but will anyone change their behavior?

    Due to your posts, I have been investigating how to grow tomatoes indoors here, living in a rainforest. I have been also looking at growing other vegetables onsite. I have found information regarding using all of the parts of vegetables as well as yours. I am someone who has killed many of a plant except for cacti. For me this is not something I can easily do. It has been decades since I lived in a rainforest, and always lived somewhere the sun shone more frequently. I have been able to source all of my food within 50 km of where we now live except for my loved tomatillos since we moved back here.

    So from today’s grocery order, I re-read your post on supply chains, I followed the thinks of making things to the post you shared about your daughter leading a school walk out for climate change and Greta Thunberg as it was from before I signed up for your posts. I am proud that I have long been sewing since age 9, as my mother sewed our clothes as we could not afford to buy clothes when I was young. She wanted me to take Home ec in grade 8 as she wanted me to learn the “correct way”, however, it really was an easy elective for me. I took the further course in grade 11. My mom made her grand children disposable diapers, t-shirts, PJ’s, house coats, quilts. I wondered through your links and found your friend’s think for Zero waste travelling. I saw the sewing machine she found at the side of the road in California.

    When I first moved to the US I was able to buy a sewing machine from a dealer for well under $100. It was an old one made when heavy steel metal parts were used in the US, and it turned out to be like a heavy duty machine that handled heavy fabrics, multiple layers much like an industrial sewing machine that would cost me so much more. Today I will start to re-purpose some sheets my sister-in-law gave me from her family as her boys are now out of the house. I will make them fit our beds in our new place here in Port Moody. I will make them with a brand-new Pfaff made in Germany that a dealer gave me before I left Denver as she felt that the one I was using was starting to sound like a repetitive pot gum and had done it’s time. I think my daughter’s Wolf costume the previous Halloween costume did it in. In the US, I was able to source and online textile company that only provided organically grown textiles in eastern states. Here I have been able to source 3 organically made textiles and places that are giving textiles either free or at low prices to save textiles from local landfills particularly from the huge textile waste of the huge film industry here.

    I still have difficulty getting my daughters to adopt behavior that would decrease consumer behavior for errant supply chains and getting my employers not to buy cheap T-shirts made in Bangladesh. I will now try to source a locally made wooden clothes rack that can be pulled up to the ceiling for our home.

    Thank-you for the inspiration and educational posts that help me change my behavior.

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