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Making Change? Or Selling Out?

Is Eco-Retail for Real?

The so-called “green economy” has exploded in size in the past decade. Eco-chic has migrated from the granola fringe to the pages of glossy magazines. Yet as environmentally responsible products gain in popularity, many people worry that “conscious consumption” has become a substitute for political action. Can we promote ecological sustainability through buying better things? Or is buying stuff just replicating the problem? Kevin Danaher, co-founder of GreenFestivals, says eco-fair products can fund environmental political education. Writer-activist Derrick Jensen disagrees.

Consume Less – and Consume Better

by Kevin Danaher

Dr. Kevin Danaher is a co-founder of Global Exchange, Fair Trade USA, and the Green Festivals, all of which have created many good jobs, transferred wealth from rich to poor, and raised environmental awareness.

There’s no denying it: We Americans are the hogs of the planet. We represent less than five percent of the world’s people but consume roughly 25 percent of the world’s resources. So we definitely need to cut back severely on our consumption. And one way to do that is to consume more consciously.

It’s easy for intellectuals to bemoan the collapse of all biological systems and tell everyone to stop buying stuff. But everyone needs a certain amount of stuff to survive. When you buy toilet paper (and unless you’re using corncobs or last week’s newspaper, we all buy toilet paper) do you read the package to see how much recycled content is in it? When you buy coffee, do you ask if the beans were produced under fair- trade-certified conditions?

Even the most radical anti-capitalist activist (and I consider myself one) has to buy some things. So the question is: Should you buy corporate crap manufactured in sweatshops and made with toxic ingredients? Or should you be able to buy products that do not exploit people and nature?

… more …

What do you think? Can buying organic, fair trade, re-used, and other 'green' products help protect the planet?

small excerpt of a poll page

Vote and Be Counted.


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“No, consumption can never deliver the political change we need to create a more sustainable society.
Yes, we all need some stuff and it’s better to buy products that are produced more sustainably.”

Ugh. I really take issue with the fact that you’re asking people to vote on two totally different questions!

What if I think that consumption can never deliver the political change we need to create a more sustainable society, AND — at the same time — that we DO all need some ‘stuff’ (food, water, shelter, interdependent social relationships, etc.) to thrive, and it’d be better if those parts of the planet which we label as (and ‘convert’ into) “goods and services” arose not out of an industrialized global economy that thrives off exploitation, but out of local/bioregion-based systems that truly integrate regenerative and/or cradle-to-cradle design principles?

By ultimately asking people to vote “no” to one statement, or “yes” to a _separate statement_, you’re not getting to the core of the matter; you’re merely asking people which statement they agree with “more” than the other.

Nonetheless, thank you for putting this together. I deeply appreciate your facilitating (and sharing) this ‘dialogue’ between Kevin and Derrick.

By Greg on Thu, May 17, 2012 at 12:30 pm

I don’t believe that green shopping can reverse our global footprint, but buying necessities that are as close to being footprint-neutral as possible is certainly imperative. If you must buy anything, put the environment first. That said, I don’t think that green retail can or should be perceived as an excellent solution to the problems our planet faces. Debating green retail in the context of problem-solving is barking up the wrong tree; sustainable commerce is a lesser evil, not a substitute for activism.

Overall, I wound up fairly disappointed by the way Danaher and Jensen let the debate degenerate into a black-and-white standoff between capitalism and socialism. These two political systems are not the only options, and in their eagerness to contradict one another, the two opponents seem to have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

(Actually, the whole article reminded me of the bitter divide between climate-change mitigation and adaptation that was chronicled 16 pages back.)

By GDiFonzo on Thu, September 08, 2011 at 8:04 pm

I think that buying local and organic items that are necessities is a good thing. In my case, I happen to think that buying organically grown, California wine is a better choice than buying supermarket wine (mostly non organic and much imported). In addition much of the organically grown wine is not produced at industrial scale, unlike most of the nonorganically grown wines.

I have a whole blog devoted to this subject - - Organic Wine Uncorked - and a forthcoming app that features 200+ organically grown local wines (many of them from top wineries) for $20 or less.

By pam strayer on Wed, August 31, 2011 at 5:31 pm

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