I started my “How Much Is Enough?” series back in February, but haven’t quite got to it yet. Until now.
A while back I read an article about how, if you calculate the environmental cost of shipping ceramic mugs and the heat used to make them and the energy used to clean them it actually turns out to be better to use paper cups and throw them away than to tote your coffee mug around with you and use that. (This ended up not being true, but the point is that there are articles out there making such claims.)
It made me want to bang my head on the table. Because, just when you think you are doing the right thing, an article comes out and tells you that, actually, no you are not.
Then there was the article about how doing a search on google somehow uses more carbon than… well, something. The point is, of course, that it doesn’t occur to most of us that doing a google search uses any carbon or does anything bad, right?
And then, there was the fairly traded vanilla at Whole Foods for $9.99. Could that possibly be worth it?
And, there is my recent checking of the “yes I want to use green energy” box on the form when I signed up for electricity in our new home. I got our first bill and realized that this costs about $70 more a month! That is A LOT. And I have been reading articles about how the new light bulbs that use less energy actually cause as many problems as they solve because they have mercury in them which leaks when they are thrown away, poisoning things.
Aaaaaa! What is a green wanna be to do? How much is enough? And how much is too much? When is it “green washing” and when is it really better? I mean, if I buy unfairly traded vanilla for $1.99 and then give the other $8.00 that I would have paid for the fairly traded vanilla to a NGO, isn’t that probably better than spending $10 on vanilla? What about the extra $70 it costs us to get green electricity? We are still debating if we can actually afford this at all – can we buy $70 less in groceries each month? Yet, if we aren’t willing to do that, can we really say we even try to live up to our values, especially if we can afford it if we make adjustments?
I am pretty sure I am not the only person struggling with all of these questions.
Here is my theory on how much is enough when it comes to buying green:
First, take it easy. The reality is that our individual decisions are not going to make or break the future of the planet. What we do is important, but it is important not to inflate the difference we can make. Although I know it maybe sounds a little bit cheezy, I think we can only create peace in our world if we are peaceful. We cannot be peaceful if we are freaked out about every lightbulb.
Second, do what you can. We all have different things we can do/will do/want to do. We should push ourselves to do more than what is just easy to do. We probably can pay extra for the elecricity, even though it is a stretch. We don’t eat meat, but we fly and drive too much. We buy recycled toilet paper, but we can’t bring ourselves to use reusable wash clothes for this purpose as some do. We can’t all do it all, but we can push ourselves to do more.
Third, use some common sense. I know people are all into calculating this and that, but I think common sense probably goes further than we think. If $10 fairly traded vanilla seems absurd to you, it probably is. Biking is better than driving. Apples from your local orchard are better than ones from Australia, even if the local ones are not organic and the Australian ones are. While some things may need to be researched and carefully calculated, the whole reuse, reduce, recycle goes a long way.
Please feel free to leave your two cents in the comments. I would love to hear someone who has figured this out better than me!