Buying our way to a better planet …

There is a debate, subdued at times, between various approaches toward changing the planet to the better. In many ways, my viewpoint (on the optimist side) tends toward the ‘enviro-capitalist’, thinking that we can work to structure the economy to make the right choice, the easy (and preferred) choice. There is a challenge between using financial mechanisms as a tool to move toward a A Prosperous, Climate-Friendly Society and going overboard.

The line can be thin … or thick.  

Spend a few minutes to watch GreenSumption and decide whether to laugh or cry. 

And, then, ask the question of yourself and society:

GreenSumption or Greening our Choices?

GreenSumption comes from the International Forum on Globalization (IFG):

an alliance of sixty leading activists, scholars, economists, researchers and writers formed to stimulate new thinking, joint activity, and public education in response to economic globalization …

While not necessarily in full agreement with these 60, they make me think (and think hard).

Amid all the Earth Day/Week greenwashing, with all the green packaging in the stores, it is worth thinking about the difference between greening our choices (and fostering a more sustainable lifestyle/economy) and using Green as an excuse for ever more consumption.

About the video, it is worth checking out this Blog Earth interview with the video’s coauthor Jerry Mander.

We got the idea together just by talking and laughing about the absurdity of the notion that the way out of this planetary crisis — which is deeply rooted in overuse of scarce resources — is to go out and “shop to save the planet.” Among many false solutions now coming at us, it is surely the most peculiar, but so American: every crisis viewed as a new business growth opportunity.

This is an important point with a lot of truth to it.

When we talk about dealing with Global Warming as “good for the economy”, we risk falling into this trap. While there are many economic values for ways to deal with Global Warming (such as increasing energy efficiency reducing waste) The way that it will be “good” for the economy is when we are able to be more holistic in our understanding of “economy”, to understand that people’s health and well-being “count” as well.

Obviously the better answer is less use of energy, materials, consumption, not more, as we said in the video. And to separate fake solutions (like “clean coal” and “clean nuclear” and industrialized large-scale biofuels) from real ones.

Reduce end-use consumption (efficiency, conservation, changing our choices) and efficiency throughou the system and clean energy, those are real solutions. Not ‘less-deadly coal’ …

What is IFG’s take on globalization?

The modern economic globalization model (since the 1946 Bretton Woods meetings) depends upon four impossible conditions:

1. Continuous rates of high economic growth for global corporations, and for the overall system itself. That idea is itself preposterous on a finite planet. The growth itself depends on:

2. Ever-increasing access to supplies of (inexpensive) natural resources, especially cheap energy and inexpensive global transport, arable soils, and water.

3. Third, always increasing new markets.

4. Fourth, always expanding supplies of cheap labor.

Do we live in a world without limits? IFG would say no.

Global corporations had a field day over the past five decades, while all of those things were in abundant supply. But we live on a finite planet: limited resources, limited sinks, limited rates of recovery, limited carrying capacity.

“limited …”

The ecological limits of the planet are now in clear view, as expressed by the combination of climate change, peak oil (the end of the era of cheap energy), and overall global resource depletion and extinctions. We call this “The Triple Crisis.”

“Peak” atmospheric / ocean ability to safely absorb our pollution; peak of inexpensive and easy to access oil and other resources, and the extinction threat. Yup, this is a triple crisis worth at least some attention, even among primary wars.

But, International Forum on Globalization (IFG) is worth more time than this little post can give it …

An Earth Day initiative: Buy Green to Save Green

Okay, there is GreenSumption and there is sensible action. Sierra Club and Representative Brian Baird (D-WA) are calling

on taxpayers to spend their economic stimulus checks on energy efficient products and services

Now, perhaps it would have been better if the stimulus package has measures for energy efficiency and renewable energy in it, no? Instead, people will use it to try to buy non-available rice at Costco and buy (soon-to-be) $4 gasoline. (How many miles will your rebate check take you?)

something that will stimulate the economy, save consumers money on their energy bills, help fight global warming, and could double the financial benefit of their stimulus checks if spent on products such as home insulation that are already eligible for additional tax credits.

These are great measures. Really like the idea of multiplying tax free (at least tax free on the recipient as these stimulus checks actually represent tax increases on the unborn, who will burdened with paying for them) stimulus check benefits with buying things to get even more tax benefits.

They are also calling on businesses to give “promotions and other incentive to encourage consumers to participate in the campaign”.

“Consumers …” Are we risking crossing a line into GreenSumption?

From Carl Pope, Sierra Club’s Executive Director:

“This Earth Day the Sierra Club is telling people ‘We can do it!’ The Buy Green to Save Green campaign shows that when it comes to the economy and the environment, we can have our cake and eat it too.

Carl, did you really have to say it that way?

While we need people to recognize and speak of the environment and the economy (rather than “versus”), “have our cake and eat it too …” Nails on a blackboard.

To be fair, Carl continued:

The burgeoning clean energy economy can help put our country back on the path to prosperity, help protect consumers from skyrocketing energy costs, and fight global warming.

By spending their stimulus checks on energy efficient products, consumers can help put our economy back on track, help the environment, help save themselves money on their energy bills, and help bring the clean energy future to life.

This is an important message. We can provide a more prosperous path, working to Energize America can foster a sustainable and prosperous climate friendly society. And, spending one’s stimulus check to insulate one’s home, buy compact fluorescent lightbulbs, plant a vegetable garden for 100-foot (rather than 1000 mile) food, etc are ways to invest this money toward a lower polluting and lower cost future life and society.

(NOTE to readers: I have tremendous respect for Carl, who is thoughtful, eloquent, and powerful re environmental issues … but, come on, “cake and eat it too …” Doesn’t that sound like GreenSumption to you?)

NOTE: If you enjoyed GreenSumption, you might appreciate Discover Kaui




6 responses to “Buying our way to a better planet …

  1. Sadly the GreenSumption link didn’t work, but nevertheless I did read the reast of the article.

    At the risk of appearing to be jaundiced of view, the thing that doesn’t make me warm to these arguments is that it’s not clear where the world ‘as a whole’ will go with these policies.

    After all, the Western world have become used to comfort and plenty, and that’s a difficult thing to take away if there isn’t a clear benefit to be gained.

    With the USA looking to the futire (2012-2025) to begin to address its contribution to the global energy problem, it’s difficult to see what the rest of the planet is going to do to make a huge difference.

    I’m not saying that nothing should be done, but if the wrong action is taken now, then it may well just feather the nest of the USA, China and India.

  2. On Earth Day, I bought a new car.

    The good news is that, since my old car had been running for a good 6 months with the “Check engine” light on, I’m probably fouling the air less than I was the day before.

  3. Rob —

    1. GreenSumption link should work. In any event, you can get it via the IFG link and the video embedded in the discussion (first) is the GreenSumption link.

    2. Question here is whether “Green” becomes an excuse for excessive consumption rather than one Greening one’s consumption. The two are not the same but the line between them can be blurry.

    Tarunkjuyal … and, of course, we’re hoping that the new car isn’t a low mileage McSuv that will be carrying just one person. 🙂

  4. As someone who sells light bulbs for a living, I am less enthusiastic than most about compact fluorescent bulbs. This is due to the fact that the ones currently available contain significant amounts of mercury. If one of these bulbs should break inside of a person’s home, it could cause a challenging disposal situation. It is my belief that the technology should progress to a point at which the mercury levels are low or nonexistent before people changeover their entire homes. Another consideration is that as these bulbs burn out, they will most likely be thrown away as though they are normal rubbish and landfills will have incredibly high levels of mercury in their soil as a result.

  5. Rudy — The issue of mercury in CFLs is neither a minor nor a new issue. And, for example, I am moving to LEDs. But … But … your comment understates the case in a number of ways.

    “Incredibly high levels of mercury in their soil” — As opposed to implications of mercury in coal fly ash? As opposed to ???

    “significant amounts of mercury …” Again, we need to define.

    Yes, disposal of a broken bulb should be done carefully & following guidance (here is EPA’s site: )
    Second, you need to deal with the societal implications of electricity from coal and mercury in the general atmosphere/water: with normal US electrical system, the CFL is a fraction of the mercury pollution than if using an incandescent and burning more coal.

  6. Kristina Richardson

    Most CFLs today on the market contain less than 5mgs of mercury and there are CFL options out there that contain as little as 1.5mgs of mercury- which can hardly be called a “significant amounts of mercury” considering that many item in your home contain 100s of times more of mercury including your computer. Mercury levels in CFLs can never be “nonexistent” since mercury is a necessary component of a CFL and there is no other known element that is capable of replacing it. But CFLs actually prevent more mercury from entering the environment. According to the Union of Concerned Scientist, “a coal-fired power plant will emit about four times more mercury to keep an incandescent bulb glowing, compared with a CFL of the same light output”.

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