What if you could buy social justice? (Part 7: Driving Your Way to Eco-Freedom: The ‘Go Green’ Message on Auto-drive)

“Going Green” has successfully marketed to the US populace is that “going green” as some sort of panacea to save the planet, particularly “driving green” via the purchase of a hybrid or other “alternative” vehicle.

As Alex Williams writes in an excellent The New York Times article on this subject, “US: Buying Into the Green Movement”:

“HERE’S one popular vision for saving the planet: Roll out from under the sumptuous hemp-fiber sheets on your bed in the morning and pull on a pair of $245 organic cotton Levi’s and an Armani biodegradable knit shirt.

Stroll from the bedroom in your eco-McMansion, with its photovoltaic solar panels, into the kitchen remodeled with reclaimed lumber. Enter the three-car garage lighted by energy-sipping fluorescent bulbs and slip behind the wheel of your $104,000 Lexus hybrid.”

This vision of saving the planet through consumption of “green” products has infiltrated culture, with entire stores, magazines, concerts, and even malls “going green.”  Vanity Fair had a “green issue” with a skimpily clad, heavily photoshopped Madonna holding up the globe. Yes, cuz nothing says “save the environment” like the Material Girl.

Fortune Magazine also featured a green issue, with a story on environmentalist extraordinaire (cough, cough) Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Arnie, the green warrior, the magazine reports “has retooled one of his famed Hummers to run on hydrogen and another to use biofuel.” Go Arnie! Way to save the planet hummer-style!

Of course, it’s not only Arnold who has embraced the buying-a-better-world vision. As Williams notes, this “vision of an eco-sensitive life as a series of choices about what to buy appeals to millions of consumers.” Well, of course it does, it is the American way! And it so much easier to shop your way into social consciousness than to actually do things that WOULD do more to save the planet – like CONSUMING LESS! Alex Steffen, the executive editor of Worldchanging.com argues, the real solution is to reduce consumption of goods and resources, NOT green consumerism.

Further, much of this “going green” cultural shift is NOT so much about “eco-sensitivity” as is it about fashion and hipness. It is now cool to be green, or, as the t-shirt below claims “green is the new black.”

Green consumerism, as captured in the cartoon below, encourages happy shopping, or filling of the proverbial basket with anything labeled ‘green,’ ‘organic,’ or ‘fair trade.’ However, as with many such consumer trends, there is little regulation – just because a product claims to be green or fair trade does not necessarily make it so…

Referred to as “greenwashing” at Live Science, this false-greening is Based on mostly smoke and mirrors” and “is a popular marketing strategy meant only to empty the pockets of the increasingly eco-aware, without implementing any significant changes in policy or behavior.” It seems we need a mass “Think Before You Greeen” movement akin to Think Before You Pink (to be discussed in part 9 of this series.)

Rather than “going green,” a more tenable option would be aiming for what No Impact Man practices, or being “eco-effective.” As he explains, “The philosophy is based not only on restricting consumption but on changing what is consumed so that it actually helps or at least does not hinder the world.” Other plausible solutions include what is usually termed “sustainability.” (For a good “Sustainability 101” crash course, see The Worsted Witch here.)

Yet, as option such as these require LESS consumption, they have not taken the country by storm in the way green consumerism has. For, not only is green consumerism in keeping with the United Shoppers of America mindset, it is also insidiously saturated by vested interests with everyone, including the government, reaping profits. (And such interests often PURPOSEFULLY choose the less eco-friendly options, KILLING possibilities for cars – and other products – that would get us off of the sauce -or big oil. See, for example, Who Killed the Electric Car.)

Unsurprisingly, spending less never seems to be the solution offered by corporations nor our corporatized government. Heck, they can’t even muster a “spend the same but do so on sustainable products” mantra. Instead, the “go green” message has been put on auto-drive, zooming its way into our psyches and collective cultural consciousness. However, you cannot BUY a better planet any more than you can buy social justice. When will the world wake up and realize that while mindless consumption may make us feel good and make our lives easier, it will certainly not save the planet. Hybrid cars may be a start, but spare me the claim that you are “doing your part” by purchasing the latest Lexus Hybrid or switching your Hummer to run on biofuel…

Up next, Part 8, “Saving the world Oprah style: I’ll give you a million dollars to save the world…”

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10 thoughts on “What if you could buy social justice? (Part 7: Driving Your Way to Eco-Freedom: The ‘Go Green’ Message on Auto-drive)”

  1. The high cost of fuel this past year did serious damage to our economy and society. After a brief reprieve gas prices are inching back up again. Our nation should not allow other nations to have such power over us and our economy . We have so much available to us in the way of technology and free sources of energy. WE seriously need to get on with becoming an energy independent nation. We are spending billions upon billions in bail out dollars. Why not spend some of those billions in getting alternative energy projects set up. We could create clean cheap energy, millions of badly needed new green jobs and lessen our dependence on foreign oil all in one fell swoop. I just read an eye opening book by Jeff Wilson called The Manhattan Project of 2009. It would cost the equivalent of 60 cents per gallon to drive and charge an electric car.If all gasoline cars, trucks, and SUV’s instead had plug-in electric drive trains, the amount of electricity needed to replace gasoline is about equal to the estimated wind energy potential of the state of North Dakota. Why don’t we use some of the billions in bail out money to bail us out of our dependence on foreign oil? This past year the high cost of fuel so seriously damaged our economy and society that the ripple effects will be felt for years to come. http://www.themanhattanprojectof2009.com

  2. “A popular marketing strategy meant only to empty the pockets of the increasingly eco-aware, without implementing any significant changes in policy or behavior” – absolutely. And re: the mania for hybrid cars, transport isn’t even the biggest contributor to global warming; the meat and dairy industries contribute a staggering amount! More than cars and planes put together! And that’s an area where people can really take positive action very easily (even if it’s just a small step like cutting out meat from one meal a day). But of course you never hear about things like that. It’s too much effort. (I’ve been finding this series really thought-provoking by the way, bravo.)

  3. Jo, you raise an excellent point, and I would go one further – I think moving towards ridding our diets of dairy and meat altogether* is essential.

    Monika (a fat happy vegan – goes to show that veganism doesn’t have to be some sort of “get skinny” b.s.)

    *I would like to add that this is not to suggest that those who live in the Canadian North (for example) are somehow “bad” for not having the choice to eat meat; overpriced, wilted vegetables do not make for the healthiest of diets!

    This is definitely also a class and access issue; just as I do not benefit from meat-eater privilege (in that I can’t expect to be fed in most restaurants available to others) I also have class and food access privilege – I am able to afford and have access to a wide arrange of food (whether I purchase it at a store, or find it in a dumpster). Indeed, most people in the world don’t have the luxury of “choosing” their diet.

  4. Should read:

    *I would like to add that this is not to suggest that those who live in the Canadian North (for example) are somehow “bad” for not having the choice to AVOID meat; overpriced, wilted vegetables do not make for the healthiest of diets!

  5. Sherry,
    Thanks for your comment. Your solution, though, still calls for “spending billions.” The point I am trying to make in this series is that spending is not the answer. Rather, we need to re-think our tendency to throw money at our problems.

    Jo,
    Thanks for reading and commenting. So glad you like the series!
    You make a very good point about how our diets play a role. And, this goes with my whole argument that we never propose the “consume less” solution — even when it comes to consuming less meat/dairy.
    Your comment about dairy reminds me of something I read recently about goat’s milk — that most of the world’s population relies on it and that it is less harmful to the environment. I have not looked into this claim but it sounds plausible. Also, I have read bad things about soy and soy production lately, so I worry about assuming soy is necessarily a better alternative.
    Regardless, the solution of sustainable consumption in regards to food is key — and one many US people fail to consider as they drive biofuel hummers to the latest “green” market to buy way more food than they need!

    Shermanvolvo,
    Thanks for the comments! Your points about race/class privilege are key. So true that many don’t have the luxury of “choosing” what to consume. Ironically, it is those of us that DO have the choice that are doing the most damage by wasteful, conspicuous consumption, of food and everything else!
    And I am so glad you noted that this stance is not about “get skinny bs”! 🙂

  6. I would like to add that there is a lot of racism and sexism in the environmental movement.

    For instance, the focus on “overpopulation” essentially blames environmental destruction on women from countries of the South, while ignoring the overconsumption of countries of the North.

    I hesitate to post this, because whenever I have this discussion someone always jumps in (essentially saying) “those brown women need to stop having babies – and that is not racist at all!” (It is as predictable as people jumping to say how unhealthy being fat is, whenever the topic of fat phobia is discussed).

    But there. I said it.

    🙂 monika

    p.s. Looking forward to your pinkwashing post. If I may recommend a great little article on the subject:
    http://www.herizons.ca/node/213

    1. Monika,
      Yes, so true (re: the racism/sexism in environmental movement).
      Great points about the “overpopulation” arguments and how it fails to take into overconsumption.
      Your reference to the “those brown women need to stop having babies” comment is one I hear in my intro to women’s studies classes often — and yes, people will flat out claim this is not “about race.” What I don’t hear is “those white people need to stop consuming the whole damn planet!”
      Thanks for your comment! Oh, and thanks for the pinkwashing link. I will check it out!

    1. Shell,
      Thanks.
      And I think people definitely are jumping on the eco-consumerism bandwagon — some because its a fad, and some because they BELIEVE in the “greenwashing.” Either way, eco-consumerism will not a socially just or environmentally safe planet make…

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