Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Vote ...

... with your dollars.

Last Sunday, my friend, Katie, and I took in Mikey Moore's new entertainment-documentary (or whatever you call the genre he spawned with Roger and Me. Maybe literary documentary?), entitled Capitalism: A Love Story. Going to see a Michael Moore movie in the theater is always an interesting event, because you're surrounded by like-minded individuals, usually more liberal than anyone currently in politics - except maybe Dennis Kucinich.

It was a refresher of high school Econ, in which we all learned that capitalism is the system that lets folks vote with their dollars. (Oh, Mr. Sanders, my high school econ teacher, where art thou in these woeful economic times?). The idea behind capitalism is that people assert influence through spending bucks, and that people will spend bucks on what is good and true, and the best products at the best prices will win out over expensive nonsense.

Well, we do assert influence through dollars, but there's a rat in the ship that is Capitalism.

That rat is the extreme income-inequality of our age.

(At this point, you may be wondering how this relates to the green that is Mother Nature, as opposed to the green that is money. Hold your horses! It's coming!)

The problem with the high-school-econ view of capitalism is that a concentrated few now control a lot more of the "votes" than do the rest of us. And so it means that those of us who don't have millions of dollars have to use our money even more wisely, to make our "votes" count in the marketplace.

That means that those of us who are greenily-inclined must state that with our pocketbooks, not just our voices.

So, in this era of greenwashing, what does that mean? Well, here are a few of my humble thoughts. If you have others, chime in.

1) Do your best to buy a greener alternative.
Yes, it's true. There are greenwashers out there trying to trick us. They will claim that a product is "eco", "green", or "natural" (the dreaded and nearly meaningless term.) They will use green-colored packaging and put pictures of trees on labels. And a lot of greenies will say, "Don't buy detergent that says it's made with plant-based cleaners. That's not really green!" It may not be the greenest detergent in the world, but it's probably better than the super-chemical kind. If you can afford it, I say go for it.

2) Support local and handmade when you can.
Local farmers and crafters will love you if you choose their products over one shipped from far away. And usually, those items will have lower carbon footprints.

3) Try to make the hard choices with the information you have.
A study came out once in Great Britain saying that carbon costs of roses imported from the Netherlands were actually greater than those flown all the way from Kenya, because the Kenyan farmers used much more sustainable processes. So sometimes, more local isn't better. Sometimes you're faced with an organic apple from New Zealand and a conventionally-grown one from Washington state. Organic or Less-traveled? I don't know! Until they start communicating the carbon footprint of all we buy, we have to feel OK with making the best choices we can.

4) If "green" products don't work, don't buy them.
Greener products will never catch on if you have to pay more for them but they don't work. If you try something and it sucks, don't buy it anymore -- but you may want to let the company know why. Voting for green crap with your dollars is still voting for crap.

5) Think before you buy.
Really, like most green habits, voting with your dollars comes down to intentionality. Sometimes I get home from the store and realize I bought something made with partially-hydrogenated-high-fructose-monosodium-xanthan-carrageenan. When I'm more intentional at the store, this rarely happens. It means more time and more thought go into the process, but I think it's worth it ... at least, I'm crossing my fingers that it is.

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