Of late there hasn't been much rest for journalists who cover the environmental beat. Day after day, various sources bring to their attention declarations and commitments regarding far-reaching environmental changes that have been adopted by companies, local authorities and government ministries. Again and again, they are informed about new technologies that make energy use more efficient, or cause greenhouse gases to disappear, or about promises to establish a residential neighborhood that is more ecological than a rain forest in Brazil.
The developing environmental awareness is without a doubt positive, but some of its epiphenomena arouse new doubts. Especially when this involves a "green wash" - the invention of a green image for an economic organization or corporation that is interested in rebutting complaints about damage to the environment. Such a false image is usually easy to recognize and treat with suitable criticism.
More complicated, though, is dealing with elements that are seriously planning to be green, and have convinced themselves that they are indeed such. The crucial question is to what extent they really are succeeding in reducing their negative effect on the environment. This does not have to do with one single aspect of a product or way of life, but rather with their overall effect.
A great many of the green technologies and the various ideas about an ecological lifestyle enable the continued existence of the consumer culture without bringing about real environmental change. More and more products that supposedly cause less direct damage are purchased. However, in order to manufacture them, to transport them to the market and to sell them to consumers, more and more resources like raw materials, fuel, water and electricity must be used.
"Giving things up is an essential component of going green," a uthor and journalist George Monbiot wrote in The Guardian a few months ago. "We are given advice on how to buy organic, buy seasonal, buy local, buy sustainable, buy recycled. We are told nothing about buying less."
Not everything that is more efficient in the new products is necessarily also more frugal with respect to exploiting resources. A product that has had its energy use improved, such as an automobile or an electrical appliance, becomes less expensive, and the demand for it increases. The increased consumption offsets the savings in resources that it causes - the benefit that is supposed to be provided by the more efficient product.
The reinforcement of the consumer culture by means of making it greener is, as Monbiot noted, another opportunity for accumulating wealth. It appears that in a way similar to the basic law of medicine - "Do no harm" - in environmental matters it is necessary to adopt the rule: "Do not increase consumption of resources."
Insistence on this rule is the measure by which experts, and in their wake journalists as well, will be able to examine what in the green inundation that the world is experiencing really does protect the earth, and what only constitutes another sophisticated means of exploiting it in a way that exacerbates environmental problems and threatens mankind's future.
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