Paul Tullis's Grim Tidings

Bitter musings on politics and policy

Archive for April 2009

Between Starbucks and a Hard Place

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Tonight I finished a container of hummus. That is possibly the least enticing lede in the history of journalism, but for any environmentally-conscious resident of the American Southwest this mundane occurrence catalyzes a dilemma: rinse and recycle, or dump?

Because the container is plastic, and because hummus sticks to plastic, even if you are not above (which I am not, when alone) wiping the container with your finger after whatever it is you’ve been dipping into the hummus is no longer mopping anything up, the container requires rinsing. Either by you or by whatever entity handles your recyclables, but it needs to be rinsed.

Here’s the dilemma: does one conserve more resources by using water — an increasingly precious resource in the Southwest as the current cyclical drought becomes a chronic one with increased global warming — to wash the container out, enabling it to be recycled, which saves fossil fuels? Or does one throw it in the garbage, saving water but relinquishing the opportunity to reduce energy consumption?

The current socio-political, eco-econo climate is rife with these dilemmas, and they shall be a focus of this blog.

I once knew a guy who was such a strict vegan he said he used no animal products whatsoever: no meat or dairy entering his body, of course, but also no wool and no silk covering it. Animal welfare was the environmentalist cause he’d chosen to try to affect as a consumer. Yet he made his living as a DJ, buying copious quantities of vinyl LPs— a petroleum product— and he drove a 1960’s model Cadillac, which got about 12 miles to the gallon. So while he was protecting animals with one pocket of his wallet he was contributing to their extinction with another.

Coast to coast, conservation-minded consumers are tying themselves in knots trying to do the right thing every time they reach for their wallets; never before have so many thought so hard about spending so much. With all the evil corporations to boycott and imperiled indigenous organic farmers to sponsor, how does a self-respecting environmentalist navigate the marketplace? Can a socially responsible marketplace benefit anything besides the guilty consciences of bourgeois white liberals (of which I am, admittedly, one)? Would we be better off not wasting energy on it all and just writing a check to the NRDC (or whomever) every year? What’s the line between the easy things you can do to help the environment, like buying organic or taking shorter showers (if you live in a drought-prone region), and living in a cabin like Ted Kasczinski, staying warm by a dung fire?

It’s not just at the individual level that this takes place; it’s also happening at corporations as they seek to draw trendy, wealthy, early-adopter enviro consumers to their products by improving their image. (E.g., Starbucks’ attempt to convince people to spend additional money on their coffee during a massive economic adjustment.) Socially-responsible investing funds’ assets were at all-time highs until the market meltdown last year; 2007 set a record for the number of social and enviro stockholder resolutions. Yet as the BP pipeline accident showed in 2005, sometimes the company that’s better in one regard, e.g. admitting global warming is real, is worse in another, e.g. worker safety.

And attempts to go green are fraught with concerns and contradictions: Should soy-beverage maker Edenfoods include a straw with their drinks and thereby make it more convenient for people to generate demand for their recycled packaging? Or ditch the straw and save plastic? What do the organic farmers with roots in the 1960’s think of the fact that Dole Foods, wholly owned by a billionaire who made his fortune developing urban sprawl, is helping to increase the amount of certified-organic agricultural land? There’s a host of bullshitting going on in green marketing and other efforts to go (or to be seen as going) green, and I’ll be investigating it.

What are your personal enviro/enviro-consumer dilemmas, like the example with the hummus container above? What green marketing efforts are you suspicious of? Comment below, or write me and I’ll look into it.

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Written by ptullis

April 29, 2009 at 8:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized