19 April 2009

Green Elitism

Is Rural Green Living an Elitist Illusion?

I didn’t just post this because they use a Monty Python picture in the article. I swear.

No, I was actually just talking about this recently with some friends (my friends are so nerdy that we typically sit around talking about things like the true definition of sustainability). Hybrid cars are great and all, but I can’t afford one. Most people I know can’t afford one. I typically use the word “inaccessible” for most “green” innovations. Many argue that new green technologies will eventually trickle down, but I honestly don’t think we’ve got that kind of time. Products trickle down as newer, better innovations come along, but that can take decades- and it means that there will be even more sustainable products on the market, leaving those with the least money using outdated, inefficient models.

Additionally, how green is it if the majority of the population simply can’t afford it? It means only a small percentage can go green, leaving the rest of us… well, not green.

This article presents a good point, and turns it about a bit. Not only can “green” products be labeled elitist, marketed as they are to people with money (Whole Foods is a great example of this. I dare you to find a Whole Foods in a depressed area), but those toting the green products tend to look down on those who are lacking. There’s certainly a “greener-than-thou” attitude among a lot of the environmental advocates, comparing notes on whose wardrobe is more organic, who has the newest, most efficient car, who has the fanciest fair trade furniture. And that’s great and all. It’s better than all of those same people driving gas guzzling sports cars. But what about the part of the population who doesn’t have the disposable income for that sort of shopping?

That’s where you encounter what this article calls “the rural poor,” and by extension, I’d imagine, the same group in urban areas. When people have less money (and I think college students, at least the ones I hung around, sometimes have a similar experience, even if it’s temporary), they become very innovative in their attempts to cut out expenses. For those in rural areas, especially in the UK, which this article refers to, they’ve likely been practicing sustainable methods for centuries. A hybrid car would be completely ridiculous in that situation- as would a reusable grocery bag, or organic cotton shoes, or any other of the trappings of middle class greenism.

It makes you, I think, really question what sustainability is. I personally don’t think it has anything to do with products whatsoever. Some may be “greener” than others, and may be improvements in terms of damage done to the environment- but if we’re really going to be sustainable, I think improvements are just not going to cut it. We need to rethink how we approach everything in our lives, and that, I believe, means cutting out the consumerism all together. What’s more sustainable, after all- solar panels, or not using any electric at all? Oh, I know how most people will react to this- I get labeled a luddite all the time- but I’m not suggesting we all go without electric, as I’ve said before. I’m just suggesting we take a long, hard look at the things we call “green” and ask if they’re really helping save the environment, or if they’re really just helping us feel better about ourselves- while we maintain the exact same lifestyle that got us into this mess originally.

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