Does a Bad Economy Spell Good News for the Environment?

December 4, 2008 at 7:44 pm 2 comments

hoboNow that our economic crisis has officially been declared a “recession,” I think it’s time to look for the silver lining (green lining?). Americans are losing jobs by the hundreds of thousands, major businesses and banks are going under, and economic indicators haven’t been this gloomy since the 1930’s, but let’s be positive – this could be really great for the environment.

Take your stereotypical Great Depression hobo, for example. Let’s call him, “Joe Hobo”. He’s really a green guy. He doesn’t waste a thing, and even helps to recycle other people’s trash. He takes public transit (cattle trains!), and doesn’t use plastic shopping bags, preferring to carry his purchases in an eco-friendly bindle. My depression-era grandparents were the first to remind me to turn off the lights, save water, and scrape the mold off that bread and eat it – it’s still good! To be honest, I think the American consumer could use a lesson or two from Joe Hobo, and whether they like it or not, they’re getting one now.

Earlier this month the Chicago Sun Times conducted a survey to see how people were trying to save money these days. Some common responses included a shift towards eating leftovers and buying fewer “non essential” grocery items, which means less wasted food and less trash in general (this is revolutionary for a population known for wasting up to 40% of the food we produce). People were also cutting back on the amount of personal care and cleaning products they use, meaning fewer cleaning chemicals are going down the drain and into our water supply, and many were giving up on bottled water and switching to filters, which we all know is the greener way to stay hydrated.

Now, the economic crisis is also causing some trends that aren’t so good for the environment, including a drop in organic food sales. Even my meat guy at the Union Square Greenmarket is feeling the pinch, claiming that he’s not selling as much this fall as he was last year, and that shoppers are turning to discount food suppliers like Costco for their hams and sausages. Their loss.

And the transportation sector is complicated, with gas prices dropping and SUV sales rebounding recently after a summer of less vacationing and less driving in general. But the near-failure of the auto industry and its expected federal bailout brings expectation that reform of our car culture is imminent, and smaller, more efficient cars and hybrids are soon to become the norm.

Overall, I think (and I’m not an expert, nor an economist, so who really cares what I think anyway) that the whole recession thing is going to have a positive overall result for the environment. Already Americans have been conserving more, shopping less and bringing back some of those depression-era practices that their parents and grandparents taught them. Nobody likes a recession, and I really, really, hope it ends soon, because I need a job, but if this economic downturn puts even a little dent in our consumer addiction, it could have enormously positive consequences for our long-term environmental health.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tom  |  December 5, 2008 at 1:04 am

    Very interesting analysis. I think you’re right; although this recession is not so great, it is causing people to reevaluate their habits, which IS good for the environment. Sometimes it takes something as unfortunate as an economic recession for people to realize how much we are wasting. Hopefully once we come out of it, we can carry on with our newfound green habits.

    -Tom
    http://www.worththeenergy.wordpress.com

    Reply
  • […] to my post the other day, this scenario is an example of how the economic crisis is, in fact, bad for the environment. Even […]

    Reply

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