Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Recycling means it never happened - a rant

The NY Times has a great article about environmentalism in the Fashion & Style section: "Buying into the Green Movement"

Basically it describes a trend I've gotten very tired of - people using "eco-conscious" choices to justify indulgent consumption.
  • It's not good for the environment to throw out perfectly-good item A so that you can replace it with more efficient and eco-friendly item B.
  • Composting food does not mean you didn't waste your leftovers.
  • Buying "biodegradable" stuff is worse than meaningless.
  • Recycling doesn't magically mean that you never consumed that item in the first place... *cough* reduce, reuse *cough*
  • Using cloth grocery bags is pointless if you're just going to buy plastic bags to throw your garbage and recycling in anyway
  • Bottled water is stupid unless your town has a specific problem with contamination. You weren't too good to drink out of the hose as a kid, why are you too good for a faucet now?
  • You can't justify burning jetfuel on overseas vacations because it "helps people from different cultures understand each other."
The best I've heard recently? A new "biodegradable" kitty litter made from a wheat product. Awesome. So now we're also turning something inherently valuable (food) into something for cats to pee on. Thank god our subsidies make food so affordable!

Here's another one. Stop throwing out your water bottles every time they go out of fashion. A dangerous plastic bottle is when people in the developing world reuse pesticide bottles and industrial chemical drums to carry and store drinking water. I really don't think the tiny trace of BPA that you'll get drinking out of a Nalgene bottle for 10 years will be the death of you. All the hippies in Davis thought it was pretty cool and folksy of them to buy mason jars to drink out of. You know why people used to drink out of mason jars? Because when you actually can food, you can't open a kitchen cabinet without finding one! Buying new things never reduces your ecological footprint! I have no doubt that the most "green" among us are poor people who couldn't care less about the environment but live within a tight budget.

If a hybrid SUV or luxury sedan that gets 20 mpg makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside, than enjoy it - but don't preach to me about how green you are.

Have you heard any awesome justifications for people to live their lives the way they want without eco-guilt?


  1. Amen. Great post. My rule of thumb for a long time has been "If it isn't saving you money, it probably isn't saving the environment." It works pretty well.

  2. i dunno how far that "saving money" rule of thumb is going to take you.

    i feel like in our current economy, "if its saving you money, the costs have probably been externalized".

  3. There's certainly a lot of externalization in the production of things we consume, but not constantly buying new clothes, gadgets and cars is a move in the right direction.

    For example, I know that the oil that goes into my car causes a lot of collateral damage, but I live 5 minutes from where I work, the car's 10 years old and it gets great gas mileage.

  4. How about the woman at my sewing group who has bought one of these little Smart cars to go to the local shops, but she smilingly told us "we'll use Stuart's Mercedes for all the long journeys, it is so much more comfortable" ....

  5. I guess it's better than using a 300 horsepower car ALL the time...

  6. I must disagree. You use the word "thought" to imply past tense. The hippies in Davis _still_ think it's cool to drink out of mason jars.

  7. Actually the poor are not the most green. They are a huge problem for any green revolution because the upfront cost of efficient appliances, insulating your house, getting a fuel efficient car is prohibitive to the less fortunate so they end up wasting huge amounts of energy/fuel. Buying significantly (not a decrease of 2Watts) more energy efficient/fuel efficient thing are worth it.

    But I agree with everything else.



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