October 28, 2009

Is Grandma Greener Than You?

I read an interesting article in USA Today last week called "Grandma's greener than you." The gist of it was that even when you think you're being environmentally friendly and living a "green" lifestyle, your grandparents have you beat hands down. The Great Depression taught them all about using up, making do, and going without long before there was any concern about the effects of overconsumption on the environment, or before recycling was something you did by choice.

Click here to read the entire article. I agree with the point that often the "greener" option is to go without, i.e. riding a bike or walking versus buying a Prius, air-drying laundry vs. purchasing energy-efficient appliances, wearing your old pajamas vs. buying new organic cotton brands. And I agree that too often we think that "going green" means buying something.

But I take issue with the wrapup, which states that "the economy as we know it would tank if consumers lived as 'green' as our grandparents did." There must be other ways of contributing to the economy than simply buying more crap. My husband and I eat at our local restaurants, pay for a delivery of organic produce, put gas in our cars, and buy groceries. I still have my hair cut and get an occasional facial or pedicure. I refuse to believe that I am somehow part of the problem just because I've given up buying new stuff.

Maybe the key part of that sentence is "the economy as we know it." Maybe THAT economy SHOULD tank. Maybe we need a different economy. I'm disappointed that the article didn't go into this, but maybe I'm expecting too much from a mainstream news source.

Have you heard or read any interesting news about how a new or different economy could work, one that was based more on needs and values, and that didn't rely on getting people to buy more stuff they don't need? Please tell us about it in the Comments section. And chime in with any thoughts or questions as well.


Vanessa (Last Night's Leftovers) said...

Interesting read. Thanks for the link! :)

Marie-Josée said...


Great post, and food for thought. I think we can't continue with the same economical models, as they are geared for continual growth in order for shareholder's to increase their wealth. Obviously, our planet can't sustain this, and it has been cited by many environmentalists that we would need several planet earth's to sustain North American lifestyles for the world population. In addition, focusing on wealth, assets and productivity has not made us happier. Numerous studies have been performed, which astonishingly revealed that once basic needs are met, greater wealth, more stuff does not significantly increase happiness. I feel I am barking up the wrong tree, as I am sure you, and your readers have already figured this out. I guess my point is that beyond material resource limitations, changing the economical model will have positive repercussions on our emotional health. I highly recommend David Wann's recent book : Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle, as well as exploring his website www.davewann.com. He has great ideas and suggestions. I think that a major change in our economical model would require that we collectively accept to live a more modest, but not an uncomfortable,lifestyle. David Wann agrees.

Isle Dance said...

Well said. So true. I'm going to donate some things, now, thank you.

Kate said...

No one should feel obligated to buy new things in order to support our economy. Shopping doesn't have to be the American way. Our economy survived the Great Depression – so I'm not worried about the economy surviving. I think changing our buying habits could force our economy to change in a good way. For example, buying locally produced (organic if possible) food ensures that quality food is produced close to home.

Anonymous said...

great post. I still would buy some new objects, but mainly Italian (real Italian that is) goods that are a testimony of craftsmanship. Things I know where they're made and by whom 'cause I go there quite often. Or some objects on Etsy.
The scare that some people are trying to force on us is laughable. They pretend that for having access to some well-made things, we have to allow the flow of myriads of trash.
No, we should invert this pyramid.

Angela said...

Thanks for your interesting comments, everyone. Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

Marie-Josee- Of course we can't sustain this pace- that is so obvious, but still some want to cling to their "right to own stuff." For some, it seems like they think it's part of the constitution- drive my SUV, etc. Simple Prosperity is on my rather long book list, thanks for the recommendation.

I REALLY appreciate you all commenting- it's so much more rewarding to have a conversation, than to "talk at" people...

Betsy Talbot said...

We have new economies all around us, at least in terms of specific industries. Take newspapers - they have to come up with a new model now that people have stopped getting their news broadsheet style. And the publishing industry is seeing major changes, too (Kindle, Amazon vs. independent booksellers, etc.). Same with cable competing with the Internet (Hulu.com). Even your landline telephone has to compete with the cell phone as people realize they don't need both (I haven't had a landline for 4 years).

The point is that all of these industries change to meet demand and are finding creative ways to keep up. The same will happen to our economy as a whole if people trend toward a simpler lifestyle.

The good/bad news is that it will take a long time for it to happen and it won't be all at once if it does, so there will be plenty of time for our economy to adjust.

annet said...

A book that looks at a different way of living on the plant is "Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy" by Peter G. Brown and Geoffrey Garver. Its moral message may be daunting to a lot of Americans but it reveals the new attitude that is needed for the earth to continue sustaining us: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, resilience, and beauty of the commonwealth of life. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." Getting there is a long path, but we all need to start taking steps on it.

momoftheyear said...

Great post. I feel like when I shop at garage sales, I'm helping the economics of the family I'm buying from, not to mention "being green."

Diana said...

I think the Great Depression might be the wrong economic paradigm to look at. The GD was still an aspect of the modern economy. A better place to look would be earlier in our history.

Up to the 1800s people purchased the majority of their products locally. Quality was assured if you really didn't want your neighbor upset or if you wanted to sell more product.

The Industrial Revolution allowed items to be sold cheaply even if they had to travel a great distance.

Localized purchases for items that we actually need and/or will last would change our economy and have a huge impact on our planet.

World trade will still go on. Coffee, chocolate, and more cannot be processed easily in the US (a couple things I won't do without :)
But perhaps if we have less, we can afford to pay more for the things that really matter.