The Myth of Guilt-Free Consuming

Date Posted: November 30th, 2009

I read a post on organic does not imply sustainable. An organic megafarm can do just as much damage to the earth as a conventional farm. The food may be healthier for you, but it’s not really all that great for the earth. Also, terms like “Free Range” and “Cage Free” aren’t federally regulated so they could mean anything. The literature on the carton may make you feel warm and fuzzy, it may make you feel like your extra dollar is going to a good cause, but there’s no way to know if you’re actually doing good if your research is limited to reading labels at Whole Foods.

What about clothes that are “Made in USA”? Does that mean it was made in the states? Not necessarily; the territories count too. Is that what you thought you were getting? If you’re concerned about the carbon emissions necessary to get your new clothes to you, it’s not much closer than India or China.

What about using the bus vs carpooling? What about “going paperless”? Is that really green? The bank websites say it is, but who knows if that’s actually the case. What about reusable bags vs. paper bags. Which is really better?

Do we have the time to figure this stuff out? Do we have a good way to measure the impact we have?

I guess the point of this is, When you buy something with the word GREEN labeled all over it, don’t let yourself believe that your conscience is off the hook. It’s not that simple. Buying “green” still sends a good message, it’s just that the products may not be doing real tangible good for the world.

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Is Money Evil?

Date Posted: November 23rd, 2009

I’m still uncomfortable with the idea that amassing lots of money is good from a moral standpoint. Yes, money is a form of social debt, but it’s not that simple. For one thing, there are plenty of valuable services that don’t translate well to gaining money for them. Childcare, listening, homecooked meals, parties, hugs, helping a friend move, mentoring etc. To ask for payment would just feel weird.

Keeping score in general feels bad when it comes to service, and money is the ultimate way of keeping score.

Also, how much money you have isn’t an indication of how much good karma you’ve amassed. When we buy things all we see is the end product, and as we all know, the ends don’t usually justify the means. If the food you’re eating now was procured in such a way that the soil underneath has been depleted of nutrients, is it worth the cheaper price than the one that was farmed sustainably? The plastic option may be cheaper but it’s often not recyclable or biodegradable. Is the computer that ultimately ends up in an electronics junk heap poisoning the earth worth the affordable price? We don’t see these negatives when we buy a new product. And even when there is information on products (Organic! Free range!) it can often be misleading. You can meet all the standards of organic and still not produce your products sustainably. There’s no regulation on what “Free range” actually means.

So yes, it’s very clear that you can generate lots of money by doing things that are unsustainable. That is, the value you provided to the end user came at a cost to the earth or to others who don’t have a say in the free market.

And, of course, when you go to spend the money you can use it in very damaging ways: flights around the world, giant houses, more new stuff than you can count.

Money is like power. When you have a lot of it it’s tempting and easy to misuse it. It’s also tempting to do amass it in less than ethical ways.

I suppose, then, that it’s not surprising that a primary sustainability metric is income. The more money you make the less likely it is that you’re living sustainably. Why? Because of all the reasons I’ve listed above. To generate money you probably waste a lot and you’re probably will to spend money on things that are also wasteful.

It certainly seems like the only way to do good for the world is to be OK with living on virtually nothing. But that sounds less than wonderful.

Can you make money sustainably?

There are some occupations that don’t do that much damage to the environment. Blogging, for instance, is fairly low. People aren’t buying new computers for the sake of reading a blog, and there are lots of ways to get access to said blog without even owning a computer. In general anything where there is no physical product is very low on the impact scale. (At least that seems intuitive to me… I don’t know if that’s actually the case.) Also with blogging and other content type things, it doesn’t matter all that much as you get more and more readers. With something like making cars or electronic stuff or plastic candy dispensers or disposable diapers, the more customers you have the greater your negative impact on the earth.

I imagine with one of these low impact type careers (especially content generation) you could have the potential to make lots of money essentially guilt free. And if you’re wise in the spending of your money you could have an incredibly positive impact on the world.

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