"Because you can't hug a tree if you can't find one."

9/24/2007

Consumers Will Adapt

A few days ago I wrote about how replacing one kind of consumption with another isn't going to solve our global problems. But I wasn't blaming individuals, because I think a lot of our consumption habits are adaptations to the (consumer) society we live in. People drive cars because it is the most convenient option and public transportation systems are inadequate or nonexistent. We throw away broken appliances and get new ones because replacing is usually cheaper than repairing. We use a lot of energy to heat our homes if they were built before insulation was standard.

This adaptive consumption is almost invisible to us because it involves doing what seems natural. Getting plastic bags at the store is effortless; you don't have to even ask for them. Washers and dryers go together: why wouldn't you use both?

It could be argued that the green alternative would be easier to adopt if it was made more effortless. When my folks lived in Geneva in the late 80s, they had no trouble remembering to bring reusable grocery bags, because everyone else did and because the store charged for bags.

Left to ourselves, the majority of consumers face so many obstacles to adopting greener practices: lack of information and awareness; belief that "global warming is just part of the earth's natural cycle;" habit; convenience; wanting to fit in with our peers. We can’t assume that because some of us have reached this point in the road, everyone else will soon follow. Most people won’t get there until it’s cheaper, easier, or until everyone else is already doing it.

So while individual action is a good place for some of us to start, it will take serious legislative action and institutional change to put a real dent in global warming.

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