In honor of the Bohemian‘s green issue, I’m here to crap all over certain efforts and ideas about being “green.” What I take issue with today, in particular, is banning plastic bags and buying Priuses. Banning plastic grocery bags is fine; it’s fine in the way an organic cotton T-shirt with a “Hug the Earth” logo is fine, the way Priuses are fine. Sure, they’re better than kicking the earth in the ovaries, but they’re largely symbolic gestures.
It’s not that I’m a big green meanie, trying to rain on the Earth Day parade. But let’s get real for a minute. Earthlings have a serious problem: the world and its climate systems are changing fast. Symbolism is fine, but symbolism alone is dangerous: most people have only a limited attention span for environmental issues, and handing a person a plastic bag ordinance is like handing them a thimble to pitch water over the side of the Titanic.
There are a few very simple actions that are both meaningful and green. Here are three: How about riding a bike instead of driving a car? That’s the easy one. According to the EPA, transportation is the second leading contributor to greenhouse gasses, behind energy production. Biking is simple, efficient, cheap, clean and good for your ass. Second, eat less meat. Compared to beans and nuts, meat requires a lot more water and results in more greenhouse gasses. And finally, just have fewer children—the greening effect is exponential.
As unpopular as these ideas may be, they’re all more effective at reducing the negative impact a person has on the earth than buying a hybrid car or reusable shopping bag. They just take a little effort.
The consumer-power mantra that we can vote with our dollars and change the world comes easy to Americans. It’s a nice sentiment that requires minimal extra effort for the consumer, and it’s true, to some extent. The problem with feel-good shopping, however, is that it’s still shopping and still winds up feeding landfills and clogging the air. The answer to this and the next climate crisis will never be to buy more crap.