It’s Not Easy Going Green
Confirming suspicions long held by anyone who’s shopped at Whole Foods or seen a typical self-righteous, “eco-conscious” or “political” hipster, a new study has revealed that buying green can make you an asshole. Sorta.
According to the study, “moral self-regulation” tends to allow people to do other bad things when they think they’ve done their “good deed for the day.”
This study on green purchases is just the latest data point in a body of research on how humans engage in what’s been termed “moral self-regulation.” Previous studies have found, for instance, that white people who voted for Barack Obama felt more justified in engaging in racist behavior later on. Similarly, people who engage in an act of gender fairness have been shown to be more likely to engage in an act of sexism down the line.
Buying green is at best a band-aid solution if it’s not coupled with a more fundamental and thorough awareness of the problems people think they’re solving. For example, how many yuppies can you think of who only sip on bottled water because they think they’re environmentally aware of all the nasty pollutants out there? Well, bottled water production requires 17 million barrels of oil (enough for 1 million cars per year) and three times as much water than each bottle contains.
Opportunity costs are almost never weighed by green buyers, though not always due to sheer laziness. This ignorance may be the deliberate result of companies who have an incentive to obfuscate the actual environmental impact of their products. By making a product appear more “green,” individuals seeking moral high ground are subject to the typical hipster fallacy, which is that the premium they’re paying is for a credit on their moral calculus. And of course, the regular mainstream product that is probably more efficient on the whole (like tap water) doesn’t produce the ostentatious evidence of one’s “green cred” to reinforce that moral calculus. Sometimes due to laziness, sometimes due to misinformation, the problem lies in assuming that self-styled “green solutions” may be far from once all the costs are tallied.
Examples of our inability to compare costs abound. Advocates of going green almost never consider whether or not global warming might be better fought through instituting new technologies rather than cutting emissions and thereby seriously hampering economic development. Economic development almost always seems to be an irrelevant consideration for the typical green advocate: why care about other suffering people (especially in other countries) when the environment is under so much stress?
Similarly, green protests of genetically modified organisms would undercut the one advance in food technology that has enabled the human population to expand to the state it has reached without total world conflict over food resources. This leads me to my nominee for the most important person to die this year: Norman Bourlag. Bourlag was the father of the Green Revolution and probably prevented more deaths and raised economic conditions for all more than any other individual in the history of mankind. He’s someone who know what going green should really mean: first, understanding human incentives and capabilities, then harnessing the right technologies to create solutions that don’t rely on self-assessed human benevolence. He knew that going green should really mean saving everyone in order to save the world.