Saving Your Wallet and the Environment

Go for your personal interest and save the world in one go.

The green tide, a tide that was swelling just a few months ago, seems to have turned. This has happened before; the “greening of America1” in the late sixties, died from the economical realities of the oil shock. The public attention moves in waves, and an issue can go from paramount to naught in only a few weeks. When an issue rides on the top of the wave, it rakes in unnecessary and promises that should not be realized in the long term. The public faith in ethanol in 2007, for example, did not balance with the other needs of the human environment, causing basic food prices to rise worldwide.

However, it is important to remember that the green cause is more than dealing with carbon and green gadgets. There are more and more reasons to green our lives and livelihoods. Regardless of the current economical crisis, the green lifestyle needs to stay on the top of the agenda. With the current green paradigm this seems improbable. The green discourse focuses totally on global warming and asks a drastic change in lifestyle without offering direct incentives to the participating individuals; we should do it for the common good and humanity’s future. The “commons” have been very broadly defined: not the family, not the neighborhood, in many cases not even the country, but the world at large. In the economic climate of fall 2008, with families cutting back on their basic expenses, this altruistic focus won’t sell. Very strong incentives will have to be imposed by governments to make this paradigm work: it will not happen voluntarily.

Due to a changed socio-economical environment, measures that bring about economical savings or direct benefits will become more important, and the choices will depend on incentives for the individual. There will be the benefit of a more balanced debate; integrating elements of environment, economy ,and general public interest, will guide the choices towards more long-term solutions. Local environmental issues, such as air quality, noise, and biodiversity can receive a higher priority, since they are more relevant to the directly experienced quality of life.

Ecological investments make economical sense for the individual and society.

The initial investments in personal ecology make economical sense. There are ample examples of this, and most of them are well documented across the Internet. Once past the first investments, science can catch up to make the second, more important ones, economical too.

By just applying the economical logic within an ecological mind-frame, we might get very far. So, why is our average energy use not going down quickly? Why do more and more people own a personal spa, buy a second home, and as a result make all investments in light bulbs useless? One reason is because the dice are loaded against a sustainable lifestyle. A lot of the consumers’ behavior is not driven by informed economic self-interest or health concerns. Social pressure and status-seeking are major driving forces. Be honest: what is the utility of this outdoor, heated spa in winter? As a bonus, the not-so-hidden hand of the government seems to support consumption more often than eco-logic. This is also the reason why “fad” greenery and green gadgets seem to attract more followers than a balanced approach that takes all environmental and economical aspects into consideration.

It is obvious that the drive for a more sustainable society should not suffer during the downturn, on the condition that the right priorities are set and the right incentives are in place. Start with direct short term goals that make environmental and economical sense, both on the personal, local, national and global level, and move on from there.


1. The Greening of America, Charles Reich, 1970

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