Getting Past “Buy Green” on Earth Day

By Laura Kacere

On Earth Day, it’s not uncommon to see “Go Green” posters and signs around town, but it feels like more and more we are seeing this slogan in stores, with “green” products or all kinds being sold everywhere you look. Consumerism-masked-as-environmentalism seems to be at an all-time high, where the word green is no longer just a color, but an adjective, a thing, an action, a state of being. It is fashion, it is household cleaning products, it is home design. And it is largely being marketed to women.

This morning’s Early Show told viewers that the best part about Earth Day is green products, and featured the company Ecofabulous, where women can go online to shop for stereotypically gendered products, such as biodegradable dish soap, organic cotton underwear, or ridiculously expensive designer chandeliers made from discarded man-made debris.  You can even enter to win an Eco-mom Home Makeover! So why does it seem like women are doing all the work here in buying “eco” goods? And is all of this eco-consumerism really going to save the planet? We tend to gravitate toward the “conscious consumer” solution to environmental degradation because it’s easier. Do I really want to learn about resource exploitation or our destruction of ecosystems and the accompanying extinction of wildlife when I could just buy this cute, non-bleached organic cotton dress and call it a day?

Consumption of products to save the world is not relegated to the environmental realm. Oprah and Bono sold us the RED IPod while breast cancer PINK has made it past the pink ribbons and onto our cereal boxes, coffee mugs, and dog collars. Suddenly, we have it in our heads that we can buy our way out of problems that are much more complex and require much larger solutions than simply buying products of a certain color. The larger societal focus on consumption tend to obscure the real issues affecting our planet and serves to make a profit for the corporations that see a niche for people with their hearts in the right place. Maybe it has to do with a general overwhelming feeling of having so little time or power to make any real changes, when changing our buying habits is something easy, accessible, and within reach. The problem isn’t the actual purchasing of these things, it’s the fact that it feels at times as if this is the only social justice activism that many of us take part in–ever. It’s that the problems (over-consumption, mass production of goods, corporate greed) have somehow become the solution. 

Because the fact is, over-consumption really is a large part of the problem here. Environmental problems are completely tied to our use of resources, which has increased fourfold in the last 50 years (our population has only doubled, yet our consumer practices have changed dramatically). The world’s richest 500 million people produce 50% of global carbon dioxide emissions compared to the 6% produced by the world’s poorest 3 billion. It is absolutely imperative that we examine our consumer practices as well as hold corporations accountable for the disastrous effects of production on our environment.

We must pressure our government to do so as well; the fines for violating water and air pollution laws are often so small that multi-national corporations are not discouraged to violate them. If we want to use our purchasing power, we should use it against these companies by refusing to buy their products and mounting boycotts against them. Green consumerism isn’t going away, so it’s time we start to examine and engage in honest conversations about what we as a population can do to make a real difference in the problems affecting our planet today.

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