Whenever someone claims that it’s expensive to be green, my first reaction is to get a little huffy and then start in on all the ways in which going green is in fact cheaper than the alternative. Reusables cost more at the outset, but pay for themselves over time. Same with renewable energy, hybrid cars, etc. And then there are the steep hidden costs of the seemingly cheaper option — the species driven extinct by palm plantations, the pollution caused by third world factories, the unseen human rights abuses. It’s true that some upfront costs are more. Organic, local food usually does end up costing more. But my conclusion is always the same: not finding a sustainable way to live is the ultimately the most expensive option at all.
That’s not to say that being green is cheap. And I’ve been realizing lately that its primary cost is not in dollars, but in time and energy. You can either spend more money (buy green products) or spend more time (make/grow green products). As a cheapskate and occasionally obsessive DIY-er, my preference has always been for the latter. I cook my food from scratch, line dry my clothes, mix up my own moisturizers, bake my own bread, and even fold my own kitty litter bags out of old newspapers.
All of these good green habits were initiated before I had a two hour commute, an eight hour work day, and a forty hour work week. Trying to squeeze my whole life — including all my green DIY projects and some freelance work — into the peripheries of my work week has been a challenge. I suddenly feel more sympathetic to Americans who get home from work, flop on the couch, and turn on the TV. There’s no headspace left to care about something as abstract as the planet once you factor in the next big project, the difficult client, the micromanaging boss, the office politics, the marriage, the kids, the mortgage. And this is normal. Baking your own bread is aberrant. Being exhausted and preoccupied out of your mind is status quo in our culture. If you’re not stressed, it’s like you’re not really American or something.
We have a major problem when asking people to live more sustainably is essentially asking them to buck cultural norms and choose a path that adds to their considerable workload. No wonder green is a tough sell. It’s hard to adopt that mentality when you’re stuck in the standard American adult existence with no socially acceptable way out except retirement.
If I hadn’t established my lower impact practices before getting a so-called real job, I don’t think I’d have much energy to start now. As it is, I’m hanging on to them at the cost of other activities. My blog community, for one. Twitter, for another. (This is an apology, by the way, for my absence. I can’t promise things will improve, but I’m still hopeful.)
I read a long time ago that hunter gatherer societies spend a lot less time working than industrialized ones. For all our indoor plumbing and dental care advances, I’m a little jealous. I think we were totally on to something with the twenty hour work week.
What are your thoughts on the costs of being green? Are you optimistic that we can make the leap to being a green culture?