Now that the elections are behind us, do we wait till the next election to be green?
Ever notice that voting Green isn't one of the Ten Key Values? The way I see it, the
whole electoral process is but a tiny part of the green movement. And some of the
greenest people I know don't even vote Green. You probably know folks like that, too.
So, if being green isn't the same as voting Green, then just what makes up green living?
Let me suggest that being green involves the way we make thousands of day-to-day mundane
decisions. Some decisions have to be made consciously, as we stop to consider the
ramifications of what kind of bread we buy, what radio station we listen to, or where we
fill up our car with gas.
It can seem like a mountain of decisions to make instead of just going along with the
mass culture, but the good news is that making green decisions soon becomes second
nature. This is because the more we make decisions where the green-ness of one side
outweighs the convenience of the other, we find ourselves developing habits of
greenness, where the green decisions now seem easier because it is what we always do.
As each piece of our life is transformed from the ego-oriented, closed minded, single
purpose decisions, to one of life-oriented, input desiring, connected decisions, we
start to see ourselves increasingly as a source of green-ness. Being green is how we are
and we begin to feel better about decisions springing from our internal values instead
of something we are "supposed to do".
Let's consider purchasing decisions. Although there are many more aspects to green
living than shopping, purchasing is where we invest the energy of our life's work. It's
a struggle, all the more so because in our culture many very clever people have spent
decades developing ways of influencing our thinking to their own ends. One of the most
insidious techniques is what I call bribery.
Bribary involves separating cost from price. Many people think they are the same thing,
until you ask them about the price of a war and the cost of a war. In this case, most
people will agree that the cost of war involves many more things than how much money it
took to finance it. Likewise there is always a difference between price and cost. Costs
involve social, economic, political and environmental effects. Price involves how much
money you take out of your pocket. One of the great failings of capitalism is how it
divides price from cost. The price of gas is what you pay at the pump. If your decisions
are made on price, then you'll buy from the cheapest gas station. You'll buy the
cheapest food. You'll seek out the cheapest shoes. You'll shop where everything is
promised to be the cheapest.
You are being bribed to buy gas where it is sold at a lower cost. Rockefeller started
his economic empire by undercutting successive regional competitors until they each went
out of business. Where do you buy your gas? Is it at the Cumberland Farms and Big Apple
or at a neighborhood service station? Remember the term "service" station? In
Pittsfield, we have an independent Mobil dealer run by two brothers. They have a two bay
garage and are always busy working on cars. I want this business to stick around,
because I have them work on my car, too. So whenever I can, I buy my gas there even
though it is generally 1-2¢ more a gallon than the cigarettes & megabucks gas
station up the street. What has this really cost me? If I fill up with $24, I have
bought about 16 gallons of gas, so making this decision has set me back 16-32¢. A low
enough price to help ensure a locally owned full service gas station remains in the
neighborhood. And they don't charge for air.
"Resisting the bribe" of low price is one of the pillars of how I make green
decisions. Once you can bring factors other than price into a purchasing decision, you
free yourself to connect your purchase to its true costs.
For over a hundred years the policy of the USDA has been cheap food. As the US has grown
into a worldwide empire, this policy has become entwined with our foreign policy, so
that now cheap food from the US has become an economic weapon, used by Uncle Sam just
like Rockefeller used his cheap oil. Once we look what keeps the price low, we see that
cheap food is one of the world's greatest evils.
If you look at almost any problem farmers have, it can be fixed by paying them more for
the food they raise. Don't subsidize anything, just pay them more. Consolidation of food
retailing has been happening at an ever faster pace. By 1980, Hannaford had bought out
or put out of business most of the local markets. For 10 years Shaws has been moving in,
but now Wal Mart will undercut them all. They offer the convenience to buy anything at
one store, low paid servants to greet you as you enter, and an advertizing budget to
alter your thinking to believe your community needs them. And low prices to bribe you
into helping to dismantle your neighborhood as they suck funds back to their Arkansas
headquarters, where it finances expansion, stockholder happiness and bloated CEO
Is this where you buy your food? Or do you seek out small stores and farmers who are the
fabric of the community that you want. The wonderful thing about small business is that
just a few modest sales make such a big difference. The amount a family will spend on
food at a farmers' market is a noticable portion of each farmer's income. Don't think
about keeping your money out of Wal Mart, Hannaford or Shaws, where you'll never be
missed. Rather think about adding it to a community farmer. That's where it will make
the biggest difference.
Whenever you are about to buy something, think about what effects you are having on your
community, the environment, social justice, or anything else you can see connected to
the cost of your purchase. Ask yourself if you are being bribed with convenience and
price to make a purchase that really works against your values.
Every purchase you make has a cost as well as a price. It makes us greener to stop and
think about the cost behind a purchase.
Tom Roberts and partner Lois Labbe grow two acres of organic vegetables at Snakeroot
Organic Farm in Pittsfield.