Can ‘buying green’ save the planet?
Does changing your personal behavior and ‘buying green’ make any difference at all?Posted Apr 22, 2010
In Sharon Begley’s article for NEWSWEEK: “On the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, Let’s … Go Shopping!”, published April 21st, 2010, she makes the argument that “buying green and changing personal behavior won’t save the planet”, and claims that this mindset is in fact detrimental to the entire environmental movement.
She states that all major victories in the environmental movement have come from global treaties and national legislation, and that individual actions and “buying green” have acted as a form of appeasement “distracting us from the hard work needed to remake the world’s energy system”. The key point made is that “consumption as politics bypasses pushing for action that might bring substantive shifts, such as meaningful controls on greenhouse gas emissions, comprehensive programs that sustain holistic farming and food, support for establishing and distributing solar, wind, geothermal, and tide-based energy.”
The article comes off as pretty negative, depressing, and bleak for the average reader. Is she saying that our individual actions add up to nothing? That we are powerless to create positive change? That buying green is futile? To a degree, it’s true. You can’t just buy a better future – individual actions that affect you alone are not going to change the world. But what will change the world is when those individual actions spread, and inspire others to do the same (and more). Your small individual actions shape who you are and what you believe in. By using a reusable shopping bag, recycling, buying sustainable product alternatives, and trying to change your life in small baby steps, progress can be made rapidly. Like a snowball effect, once you start down the path of leading “an examined life”, other actions come quickly: volunteering, writing the government, and joining organizations that represent your values.
“Buying green” is a small part of the puzzle – but may very well be an integral first step in converting mall-addicted-consumeristas into conservationists.
“Buying green” is a small part of the puzzle – but may very well be an integral first step in converting mall-addicted-consumeristas into conservationists. Doing anything progressive is better than not doing anything at all, and those initial actions may get the ball rolling for more significant consequent actions. Every individual action you take pushes you in the direction of a larger collective. Although the water runs slower at the edges of a river, it becomes deep and swift in the middle. Once an individual with their small consumer actions begins to wade into the river of sustainability they may find themselves pulled into a current of collective movement that is rapidly changing the world as we know it: from sustainable LEED certified development to government initiatives, social entrepreneurs & eco-preneurs, humanitarian & environmental organizations, and grassroots community initiatives.
Changing our personal behavior is the most fundamental thing that needs to happen before we can change the world.
It’s quite easy to say that the only major improvements in this world have come from “Global Treaties” and “National Legislation” – but how were those treaties ratified? How did that legislation pass? All these things happened because of the collective actions of small groups of like-minded individuals. So the question is, where are your individual actions taking you? Are you stopping at just using a reusable shopping bag, or are you trying alternative transportation as well? Are you examining your energy consumption to see how you can be less wasteful? Are you looking into how you can volunteer, or how you can write to your government and lobby for progressive change? We live in a democracy where our reality is shaped by the individual actions of millions of people. Changing our personal behavior is the most fundamental thing that needs to happen before we can change the world.
Can ‘buying green’ save the planet? No, but it is a first step. The important question is what are your next steps going to be?