Buying Green

April 2008


There's lots of talk these days about "Green" products and how people can be supportive of environmental issues by purchasing certain kinds of goods or by patronizing certain retailers. Most of this is fake wisdom that just makes somebody money. What can an ordinary person really do that will make a difference to the global ecology?

We have come to a time in the life of our nation and our planet when we have to make a choice. This much is clear, but there is a whole rabble of people who will shout you down if you don't embrace their brand of the right choice. Unfortunately, many of these advocates are either befuddled or being used by commercial interests in the battle for hearts and minds that is more important to mainstream movers and shakers than any consideration of environmental preservation or catastrophe.

It is, however, very simple. If you want to be green and to support a sustainable planetary ecology: There are three simple rules:

RULE ONE: buy local.

Example: there're very few things as biologically friendly as lettuce — it's green, it consumes greenhouse gasses, it's good for you—until you expend non-renewable resources to ship it halfway round the planet instead of growing it next door. This is a difficult choice to make. In many neighborhoods, it may be very difficult to find locally grown food and very easy to find globally shipped food. Locally grown food often costs more than food grown by slave labor in some distant part of the world with no environmental regulation. Certainly the slave-grown food is more profitable for the middlemen and retailers. This situation won't change until you insist on having local alternatives. Some things you can't buy locally: you can't grow oranges in Minnesota, so go ahead and ship them to St Paul, if you live there, but from Florida or California, not Indonesia, Chile, or South Africa.

As with food, so with everything else. We live in a peculiar condition where the cheaper something is, the more likely that it is doing something awful to the planet somewhere in its lifecycle. Cheap plastic toys and gewgaws are filling up the surfaces of our oceans, eating up our oil reserves and filling landfills. In most cases, they serve no real, useful purpose, which is why they are consigned to the trash almost as soon as they are bought. Go look around your local dollar store. Go look at your local garage sale. It's amazing the amount of just plain junk we have in our lives these days.

RULE TWO: Don't buy junk. This one has a useful corollary: throw away less.

We Americans are a special case. Our national economy is financing most of the world's worst ecological damage. We're in love with stuff. Go into any store in this nation and you will find that as much as 99% of the stuff in the stores is made in China. It is no coincidence that China is a terrible polluter and getting worse. It is no mistake that China is becoming the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Much of the reason why we Americans are making much less pollution here in the USA than in the 1970's is because we've exported it. The pollution and the stuff we buy isn't made here at home anymore, it's made in China.

RULE THREE: Don't buy anything made in China.

You can get behind this last rule, even if you can't get over your addiction to stuff. Here in the USA, we're in kind of the same condition as India was when Gandhi told the people of India to buy homespun cotton cloth instead of the much nicer and more fancy English cloth. Buying all the imported stuff was ruining their economy and indenturing their children to a kind of global servitude. Well, boys and girls, it can happen here. Point of fact, it has. Every time you buy stuff made in China, you are mortgaging your children's future - their jobs, their standard of living, their prosperity. The best way to turn the USA into a third world nation is to keep buying Chinese (and other) imported goods... even if they're cheaper, even if they're better. Just don't. Buy local or not at all. If we all just bought local American made goods, even though they're more expensive so we can afford to buy less, our local and national economy would prosper. Huge trade deficits are bad for America, any way you look at them, period.

OK, so if you're globally minded and don't mind turning this country into a huge garage sale, maybe, just maybe, you do care about the planet. But, as long as we keep buying Chinese goods, regardless of how they're destroying the ecology of China > Asia > Earth — nothing will change for the better. If we stop buying Chinese goods until they're made in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way, then we will have done the Chinese people, our own people, and the Earth a big favor.

Trouble is that there are some people, here at home, and in China who stand to make a whole pile of money by keeping things going the way they've been going. They're also the people who own most of the mainstream media and just about all of the advertising and public relations firms, so the three simple rules you need to follow to be more green won't be seen on the evening news anytime soon. It doesn't have to be. Just do the right thing and we can get this nation and our planet off this crazy collision course to species suicide. It is becoming more clear every year that we're not just choosing how our great-grandchildren will live, but whether we will even have great-grandchildren.

  1. Buy Local — insist on local alternatives for anything you could buy locally
  2. Don't buy junk — make do, buy fewer better things that last longer, make do with less. Save your money.
  3. Don't buy anything from China — especially until they clean up their act.

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