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Go Green to Save Money?

This is the week of “Earth Day.” Not surprisingly, my email inbox has been flooded with articles about how we can protect the environment. One piece was titled: 10 Low-Carbon Ways to Save Money For Earth Day and Beyond

Here they are:
1. Make your house more airtight
2. Use smart power strips
3. Upgrade your refrigerator and air conditioner
4. Get an electricity monitor
5. Change those light bulbs
6. Wash clothes in cold water
7. Go shopping for a car with better fuel economy
8. Eat less meat, especially beef
9. Buy less stuff. Reduce, reuse and recycle

Only 9, but despite its title, that’s the article’s list.

These all seem like sensible ideas to cut carbon emissions. So why am I disturbed that a progressive list-serve published this piece?

First, these actions may, by saving money, negate their positive impact. Take number three. Refrigerators and air-conditioners have become twice as efficient in the last decade, so people have been buying more and bigger ones. The total amount of energy consumed by refrigerators and air conditioners in the United States has increased even though each unit is more efficient. And what about the disposal of the units being replaced? Disposal takes energy and keeping an old refrigerator going as a “back-up” in the basement is even worse. Instead of actions designed to enable us to consume more efficiently, we need to focus on reduction. If #3 said buy a smaller, more efficient refrigerator and use fewer, more efficient air-conditioners, I’d still be concerned about disposal, but would find the suggestions more acceptable.

Secondly, how will the saved money be spent? Number 9 says buy less stuff, but won’t that extra money encourage people to buy more? If we use the extra money to buy more or to take a trip, we may increase, rather than decrease, our carbon footprint. You could bank the extra money, but if the bank invests in profitable ventures such as the XL pipeline, it will hurt the environment.

The article’s focus on what individuals can do also deflects attention from the primary sources of the problem. Even energy-hogging families’ carbon footprints are miniscule when compared with those of the major coal, oil and gas producing corporations. The same can be said for our military-industrial complex on the consumption side of the equation. If people feel that by taking the 9 suggested actions they’ve done their bit, and therefore, see less need to curb the actions of the fossil fuel extractors and military-industrial consumers, their actions are counter productive.

It is not only the content of the article that I find disturbing, but also that a progressive list-serve offers “green” advice about efficient consumption, and individual action, to the exclusion of addressing what we must do collectively to transform the nature of our society. We need to hear that message on Earth Day and every other day of the year. Read More 
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