The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) announced that the world lost 50% of species in the last 40 years. Directors at the WWF credit this to human consumption. For climatologists and scientists, there’s a bleakness to the future — one that includes starvation, exoduses from low-lying areas, droughts, and wild weather year round. It’s clear that we need to reduce our fossil fuel usage, but how we do that is still a complicated endeavor.
The flawed governmental approach
Going green is often framed as a decision to buy “certified organic” foods, choose energy-efficient technologies, and chuck your empty plastic bottle into a blue recycling bin. While these conscious choices are more environmentally friendly and better, they seem to ignore the very real consequences of our consumption. To illustrate this point, the U.S. government suggests, “switching all the light bulbs in a home from conventional incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs…” Going green is seen as an additional item; without the latest energy efficiencies, you’re not green.
As the government site shows, they exclaim the ills of conventional bulbs and recommend purchasing CFLs. Unfortunately, that mass waste and consumption of a new product goes unnoticed and unaccounted for. By immediately trashing all your old bulbs for the latest and greatest green tech, you’re simply ignoring the true life of a product and upgrading before it’s necessary.
The U.S. government should be encouraging people to take full advantage of the natural lives of products; instead, we hear how we should switch every bulb in our home. They are training you to have a faster turnover and consumption rate. Eventually, they’ll be recommending you switch all the CFLs with LED lights, which last longer and take even less energy. This technology is definitely better for the environment, but each transition creates massive amounts of waste, and the new products require marketing, packaging, shipping, storage, warehousing, and a consumer that will likely drive (consuming fossil fuels) to purchase the new bulbs.
Big green is big business
For the federal government, going green cannot mean consuming less. Pro-business entities and lobbying groups would launch a massive critique and attack if that was stated. Our economy is not equipped for people to stop buying. This capitalistic system is predicated on infinite growth; a pyramid scheme that will end at some point, but whose leaders hesitate to bring its early demise. Unfortunately, the government can’t properly advise its citizenry regarding climate change prevention.
At some point, going green was co-opted by “big green” — the big business approach to energy efficiency. Big green needs you to keep spending, too. With this aim in mind, they’ve warped the dialogue into a justification to purchase more. The irony is that by buying more — in order to be efficient — we’re digging ourselves into a deeper hole.
Just look at the first sentence from this Huffington Post article: “Saving energy and water can be difficult, but now there are plenty of gadgets on the market that aim to make the process easier for you.” This comes from the “Huff Post Green” section! Articles like these (which are everywhere) advocate buying more gadgets and technology, and are only contributing to this horrible, repetitive consumption.
Even at my alma mater, Colorado State University, the institution had a habit of touting its green initiatives. All the brochures advertised the push to use renewable energy and active involvement in recycling. These are commendable efforts, but there’s a hypocrisy to it all. Throughout my years there, they were always building — I never knew the campus without yellow construction taped areas, sounds of construction, and digital photo representations on the buildings to come. All that development adds tons of pollution to the air and creates epic proportions of waste. Cranes, bulldozers, and industrial materials would all be necessary to complete the buildings. The carbon costs for these components often goes uncalculated and unnoticed.
Then there’s the story of the Toyota Prius. In 1997, the company released this awfully designed hybrid monster. Getting around 50 miles per gallon (MPG), the Prius became a popular vehicle with a clear message: “I care about the environment.” When considering the technology and energy that’s required to make it, it’s scary. The battery cells, which recharge when braking and coasting, harness energy that would otherwise be lost. But they are an environmental nightmare and difficult to dispose of properly. Moreover, the Prius gets about the same gas mileage as Honda Civics from the late 80s and early 90s. The Honda Civic Hatchback from 1992 got about 48 MPG; no hybrid battery cells needed, and for a fraction of the cost on your wallet and the environment!
Finding a real solution
We’ve been duped into believing the solution to climate change is another purchase. In reality, the better answer would be to say, “Stop where you are, turn off lights, protest for change, and don’t buy anything for a year!”
Most moderate voices understand that we cannot become Luddites to combat carbon emissions. The world has become increasingly connected and globalized — it’s hard to imagine regressing whatsoever. Technological development is only ratcheting up, and people are embracing the progress fervently. But our course is not sustainable.
We need to consider movements to buy local crops and goods, collective markets and organizations, and ignoring the message to buy more to save. Going green doesn’t have to hurt your budget. It should be about consuming less and supporting sustainable development. What could be better for your budget?