It sometimes seems that "going green" is an expensive proposition: organic, eco-friendly products are sometimes more expensive than their conventional counterparts. Anyone shopping at a Ford dealership can see that the Ford Escape Hybrid, more efficient, has a higher MSRP than the regular Ford Escape vehicle. This should be surprising, since it is gluttony and waste that causes most environmental problems.
Think for a moment: what are the most severe environmental problems today? Global warming, habitat destruction, tainting of arable land, and lowering availability of clean water are a few things that come to mind. It doesn't take a lot of investigation to trace these problems to side effects of human excess. Global warming is caused by carbon dioxide released by our transportation and power systems, habitat destruction is necessary to satisfy our taste for large houses in sprawling subdivisions, and the release of toxins into the environment is a necessary side effect of the production of the products we, as civilized people, should not live without.
In fact, it should be obvious that the most effective way to reduce one's impact on the environment is to consume less. Consume less food, energy, and space. Not only is this possible for almost any middle-to-upper-class American- it would probably be a healthy change for most people, both physically and mentally, and would save people money.
Obesity is the most common preventable cause of death in the world, and its prevalence is increasing. Elsewhere on this website, we discussed the effects of pesticides- which are an indispensable part of economically sustainable farming- on the environment. Fertilizer and pesticide runoff hurts aquatic habitats. Food production also entails clearing of land- clearing of rainforests in the case of beef production- and higher demand for food means more farmland must be made available. Taking into account the fact that two thirds of Americans are obese, think of how much land could be restored if we ate only what we needed to be healthy! Organic produce and meats may seem like a more environmentally friendly alternative, organic farming does indeed reduce problems due to pesticide runoff (unless artificial pesticides are replaced with "natural" pesticides, which are often just as harmful to the environment), but organic farms lose a lot more crops to pests. Also, organic farms' refusal to use genetically engineered crops results in lower food yields. The result of these factors is that more land is required by organic farms to produce the same amount of food as conventional farms. This is why organic farms may not be environmentally friendly after all, and it is also why organic food is more expensive.
Organic food is one of many examples of counterproductive efforts people make to spend their way into environmental responsibility. This philosophy is no more evident than in the industry of "carbon offset credits". These are funds set up for the purpose of enabling rich people who call themselves environmentalists to pretend that they are offsetting the harm caused by their opulent lifestyles. The funds are used to finance eco-friendly energy harnessing devices, plant trees, fund research into environment saving schemes, or to pay companies to adopt environmentally friendly practices. While these donations may help the environment on their own, the fact that they are used to compensate for a person’s unnecessary harm to the environment makes them harmful. They pay for restoration projects that could have been conducted anyway, and the total possible effectiveness of these measures is limited. Offset measures cannot possibly compensate for the carbon use of every person. The purchase of carbon credits is akin to paying other people to save resources so that one person can waste them.
There are many environmental problems that simply cannot be adequately mitigated without personal sacrifice. Buying smaller cars or giving cars up altogether, giving up air conditioning and other power wasting devices, and taking less space to live are extremely effective ways to conserve natural resources. Remember: if "going green" is costing you money, you're probably doing it wrong.
If you know of any article or event related to this topic that you would like us to cover, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.