Truly Green Shopping

Or, Why So Many Environmentalists Get It Wrong

2018-01-15
Home / Environmentalism
Public Domain · vim(1) No Babies


I took some South Korean friends shopping in November 2017. It was their first time in the U.S. and they wanted to enjoy Black Friday at an outlet mall. Shopping bores me, but I wanted to be a good host, so I waited patiently while they scoured a GAP.

I stumbled upon a sign advertising eco-friendliness, which reminded me of similar "green" marketing from the last few years. Companies are crowing about how they're switching to sustainable sources and giving back to Nature.

But most board members and marketers don't care about the Earth. They want our money and loyalty, and if they have to smatter green slogans and marketing gibberish on their products to sell them, they will. Remember, "the business of business is business" — profits, not ethics.

But do you know what the truly green shopping choice is?

Buying nothing!

Seriously, buying nothing does more good for Mother Earth than owning whatever eco gizmos we're itching for. Sure, going green is great and we should partonize companies that really use sustainable materials and processes (beware, 'sustainable' is a fuzzy, overused word), but restraint is best.

Most millenials grew up with TV public service announcements promoting the "Recycle, Reduce, Reuse" triangle. We've been focusing most of our energy on "recycle," but what if "reduce" and "reuse" are more important? After all, if we consume less, we'd have to recycle less, too. And we'd save resources.

I'll be blunt: People who think they're doing good by buying tons of green products are fools. If we really care about Nature, we should:

  1. Have fewer children than we'd like or none at all.
  2. Only buy necessities.
  3. Buy used whenever we can.
  4. Do the other good green things environmentalists recommend: Recycle, compost, use public transit, walk or cycle, avoid long flights, go vegetarian or vegan, and so on.

Have Fewer Children

Notice that no one talks about this no-brainer? Activists, corporations, and governments recommend quick, easy fixes, like changing lightbulbs and recycling. Anyone can get behind those. But give up our urge to pump out babies like crazy? Madness! That's a human right!

But we really should consider it. We number more than 7 billion: Can't we scale back? Remember, the fewer of us there are, the less damage we do. If only 10,000 were alive today, everyone could drive gas-guzzling tanks and private jets every day and Nature would barely notice.

You know what Mother Nature loves even more than electric cars? Condoms!
Bill Maher

So let's do the Earth a favor: Have fewer children. Even better, have none! Sure, everyone we know will give us crap for it and continue to have babies—or, as the late George Carlin put it, "pump out units"—but this is about doing the right thing, not impressing others. If we absolutely must have children, why not adopt?

Only Buy Necessities

This is good financial sense. If we were to sit quietly and honestly reflect on this, we'd realize we don't need most of our stuff, even for our hobbies and entertainment.

I coughed up more than $500 for a Nintendo Switch, accessories, and a couple of games a few months ago. They're collecting dust today. Sure, they entertained me for a few weeks, but I could've saved my money and done better by taking long walks around my city, spending time with friends, or reading lots of good books on the Internet or at my local library. And I have dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other things that I never use or notice.

So it is with most of what we want. Marketers and salespeople convince us that life would be happier, easier, or at least less boring if we'd only buy their products and services. They prey on our lowest instincts and fears, driving us to keep up with the Joneses lest we and our children fall behind. But all of these are artificial needs—luxuries peddled as necessities to line corporations' pocketbooks. Those "early adopters" lining up for miles for new iPhones and Black Friday deals aren't smart, trendy individuals: They're suckers.

We can live happily without smartphones and their hordes of apps!

We can live happily with five-year-old wardrobes!

We can enjoy simple pleasures available to all who leave their front doors!

I know we can because I have.

Those who work hard to be trendy or "in" prove that they're slaves to the fickle whims of others. They don't realize how little they need to live well or how long a decent product can last.

Speaking of durability…

Buy Used

We rarely need to own the latest and greatest: There are plenty of perfectly fine used goods out there. Look at computers: Unless we live for the newest video games, our computers from 5 years ago can still function today. The same is true for phones, TVs, and other gadgets, as well as traditional staples like cars, clothes, and appliances. Why buy new when old will do just fine?

Finally, Do the Other Green Things

Notice that many of the things activists advocate—taking shorter showers, becoming vegetarian, walking—reduce consumption! Consuming less is truly key to helping Mother Earth, not buying lots of green products.

So when we find ourselves facing green advertising in a store or on the Internet, remember that the truly green choice is not being there in the first place.

All comics on this page are by Nina Paley and are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.