We’re Morally Obligated To Fight Climate Change With Everything We Buy

12.14.18 1 month ago 3 Comments

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“The environment” is such a broad, sprawling issue that it’s almost impossible to fathom. It touches everything — from how we communicate to our clothes to our homes to cars to food to… oral hygiene products?. Everything. And if you slow down long enough to think about it, it’ll spin you the hell out. Even right now, you’re reading this on a device that was built with minerals extracted from the earth by the lowest bidder, wrapped in a plastic cover, which (assuming it’s a phone) has the shortest lifecycle of all consumer electronics, and the lowest rate of ecologically responsible disposal.

Have your eyes glazed over yet? That’s the biggest problem with the sustainability movement: We’ve been tricked into pretending that it’s impossibly confusing. And it is confusing. But not impossibly so and certainly not so confusing or nuanced that you’re justified in throwing your hands up and doing nothing. In fact, you’re obligated to do something. Always. It’s a burden of your very human-ness.

Last week, when pressed about the economic impact of the global climate report, President Trump said, “Here’s the other thing, you’re gonna have to have China and Japan and all of Asia and all of these other countries address [sustainability] as our country.”

And he’s absolutely right. Global ecology is a global issue. But he seems to imply that other countries polluting lets us off the hook. It doesn’t. If we hope to win the race we’re in with ourselves — humans sprinting to save the planet before humans can destroy it — we’ll need to demand change on the personal, local and global levels. Part of this means pushing other countries. Part of it means forcing and regulating corporations. But part of it also means that every single one of us needs to make strong choices about how we vote with our dollars. Because the whims of the money spending public have proven, throughout history, their massive ability to create change.

Here’s how to help protect the environment by cultivating a clear purchasing philosophy.

TAKE TIME TO LOOK PAST THE SURFACE… OR FIGHT FOR REGULATIONS

“Buy local” sounds like an easy maxim, but it’s actually not. If someone makes jewelry at your local farmer’s market with metals and stones that are unsustainably mined before being flown or shipped to a US distributor and then shipped across the country, is that really local? Yes, it seems horribly boring to ask someone, “Where do your metals and gems come from,” but — as is the case with all of this article — that’s the tedious, sometimes insufferable work of voting with your dollars to make sure that the ocean doesn’t turn into one giant vat of acid.

The example of “buy local” greenwashing offered above is microscopic in scope, obviously, but it’s an interesting thought experiment for how we need to train our brains to think. If we can master this — tracing products back to their origins, understanding their money trails and what those imply, and seeing past slick marketing tricks — we’ll be on our toes when a president who proposes cutting the Office of Fossil Energy budget by 85% also spouts off about “clean coal” as if it’s the salvation. Or when corporations that are doing most of the polluting try to curry our favor with a few insignificant initiatives. We’ll see through the smokescreen and understand the real impact of our actions. We’ll research the things we buy and support businesses that make a genuine effort.

That’s not to say that the end game is to shame your local farmer’s market jeweler out of business. The jeweler is insignificant. It’s simply a metaphor for a larger issue. Because the truth is that understanding ecology is hard for everyone, especially when marketing buzz-speak has made virtually every term meaningless. To spend with our dollars, we either have to A) ask those tough questions (costs time), B) support the people asking tough questions, like the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch List (costs money), or C) vote for regulations that outlaw certain corporate behaviors (thereby increasing the size and scope of the government). If you don’t want to spend time researching all your purchasing decisions or pay .orgs to help make them for you, well congrats, you’re pro-regulation. Or pro destruction of earth. There’s just no sensible way to cut through the web of green-washing without an increase in time, money, or government involvement.

Of course, in the best-case scenario, we support all three. We look past marketing babble and hold every purchase to high standards, we support marketplaces that help do the research for us, like IndieGoodz, while also enabling the government and NGOs to protect us from egregious corporations.