No Sacrifice Too Small

By Matt Power | 3/1/2010

Consumers hate sacrifice. But unless they begin to embrace change, the green revolution may languish for decades.

I got a call this week from a builder in Texas. He’s trying hard to do the right thing—to build his first green house. But he’s stuck on granite countertops. He called to ask not whether granite is an ecologically sound material, but whether rumors of radon offgassing are to be believed.
In other words, he was eager to rationalize the use of his favorite product, rather than looking hard for other, greener materials. Maybe that’s human nature. But the problem is that being comfortable may be our worst enemy in the long run. Instead of making gradual changes, we’ll wait till thinks look really grim, then suffer the consequences.
Builders face this challenge constantly. Their buyers want products they know, many of which—such as synthetic carpets—with very poor environmental records.
Can people change? Absolutely. The marketing efforts of corporations converted our society from one of production to one of consumption in just a few years following World War II. But now, as writer Sandy Leon Vest point out in this fascinating article, we’ve become addicted to products that are destroying our world. And as Vest notes, any hopes of our new social media “communities” sparking a green revolution are a pipe dream. When Facebook announced it would power its operations using dirty coal utilities, users of the services gave in with barely a whimper. She writes:
“In the same way consumers have become captive to the social networking industry, we have likewise become captive to the telecommunications, satellite television, pharmaceutical, fossil fuel, fast food and credit card industries (to name a few). We may not like the ways in which these corporate behemoths treat us, but we’re too addicted to their products to do much about it.”
One factor that could change the dynamic of comfortable detachment would be a large spike in energy costs. In Europe, for example, where energy is much more heavily taxed, green psychology—including personal sacrifice—has become a much more accepted byproduct of the good life. But anyone who has turned the TV on in the past month, and listened to the ranting of conspiracy theorists, evangelicals and fear-mongers knows that putting a positive spin on conservation, frugality, localism or community is portrayed as market heresy. We have a long way to go.
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