I find it difficult to think about environmental issues without also thinking about social justice issues. For example, when talking about eco-friendly, shade-grown coffee, I think it would be a disservice if I failed to mention how shade-grown coffee can provide socioeconomic benefits to communities. However, I’ve come to think about the environmental movement in a slightly different light after a friend brought up the point that an eco-friendly life is only for those that already have money.
Can You Be Eco-friendly On a Budget?
Living an eco-friendly life can in fact be budget friendly. Just ask other bloggers like Going Zero Waste and Trash is For Tossers. Having a low impact does not mean that you have to own fancy-shmancy stainless steel containers or trendy tote bags. It’s amazing how much waste you can reduce with a simple mason jar! And don’t even get me started on the thrift store. The vast majority of my clothes are from Goodwill or Salvation Army, including all my nerdy shirts! So yes, I would say there are lots of creative ways to be eco-friendly on a budget.
Over time, a little investment goes a long way when you try to reduce your environmental impact. Not driving as much saves you gas money. Cooking at home instead of getting carryout containers is good for your gut AND your wallet. Investing in LED light bulbs and even solar energy will reduce your utilities. The list goes on and on! But for any of these items, even that mason jar from Goodwill, there is still an initial investment.
The ‘Boots’ Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness
Any other Terry Pratchett fans in the room may already be thinking about the “Boots” Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness. The full quote is below, but the gist of it is that the rich are able to spend more upfront to buy better quality products that last longer while the poor spend more money over time because they can only afford cheap, poor-quality items that need constant replacement. This quote describes the situation perfectly in my my opinion. But how does this relate to the environmental movement?
The Cost of Being Eco-friendly
When I think of the items that are inaccessible to people with lower incomes, I think of organics, fair trade, zero-waste food products, or any of the other items above that require an initial investment. Many eco-friendly items like unpacked bread or “green” cleaning products are better quality because they are often healthier or even last longer than their high impact counterparts. For the most part, I have been able to afford these items because I don’t live paycheck to paycheck.
But there are plenty of people that do. For these people, the priority is making ends meet, not making eco-friendly decisions. If I had a crippling debt to pay off, I can’t imagine I would be eating anything except the cheapest available option, which is often packaged and over processed. I firmly believe that no one is actively trying to harm the planet. However, there are plenty of people out there that don’t realize how their actions affect the environment and/ or can’t afford to do anything about it. If their option is to buy a reusable bag for a couple of bucks, or use a free plastic bag, they may not have the same choice that wealthier people have to make a more eco-friendly decision.
So What Do We Do?
People in a place of privilege should always use that privilege to affect change for the better and make more room for others. Whether the topic is race, sex, sexual orientation, or environmental issues I believe this to be true. And I say this as a privileged white woman. So if you are also sitting in a place of privilege, I ask you again to do your best. Make a donation to an environmentally-focused organization you believe in on behalf of others that can’t. Invest in community development in a conscious manner so that people in low-income communities can have the same choice you and I have. Purchase food from places like Hungry Harvest that not only reduce food waste, but also distribute healthy, unprocessed foods to folks in need. Acknowledge your privilege and use it to help others.
If nothing else, I hope this post makes other people also consider how social justice plays a role in environmental issues. Everything is so intertwined when it comes to communities and the environment. As the environmental movement continues to grow, I hope we can all come together to affect positive change for our planet and its people.
How about you guys? Do you ever think about this topic? This can be a complicated subject, and again I am acknowledging that I am a privileged white woman. Feel free to correct me if you think I got something wrong! And let me know if you’d like to see more posts like this! In the weeks to come, there will be another post with an introduction to the topic of Environmental Racism. Thanks for reading!
Keep reading for a fairly wonderful quote from Terry Pratchett!
The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.
Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.
But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.
This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.