Keeping up with the environmental Joneses

In any country where talent and virtue produce no advancement, money will be the national god. Its inhabitants will either have to possess money or make others believe that they do. Wealth will be the highest virtue, poverty the greatest vice. Those who have money will display it in every imaginable way.
~Denis Diderot

I’m one of those “natively green” people. I was all for the environment before I even knew why. I’d live a green life even if there is no reason to try to protect the environment. It’s what I do.

What I don’t do is keep up with the Joneses. That’s never been my thing. I don’t get it. I sit on the side of the rat race of life and wonder where the fuck everyone’s going so damn fast. All this implies that there are others that aren’t “natively green” and who do, in fact, care very much about the newest lawn gnome the Joneses have in their yard.

I really shouldn’t have been surprised that these two things would collide. People going green not because they care, but because they want to be seen to care. Maybe this is why I hate the damn Prius so much. It’s a status symbol.

In case you don’t want to read the whole 48-page article (due to work I only got halfway through before I finally had to admit I wouldn’t finish all of it before I needed to write this post), here’s the abstract:

Why do people purchase pro-environmental “green” products? We argue that buying such products can be construed as altruistic, since green products often cost more and are of lower quality than their conventional counterparts, but green goods benefit the environment for everyone. Because biologists have observed that altruism might function as a “costly signal” associated with status, we examined in three experiments how status motives influenced desire for green products. Activating status motives led people to choose green products over more luxurious non-green products. Supporting the notion that altruism signals one’s willingness and ability to incur costs for others’ benefit, status motives increased desire for green products when shopping in public (but not private), and when green products cost more (but not less) than non-green products. Findings suggest that status competition can promote pro-environmental behavior.

Basically, people are more willing to “go green” when they can flash it in front of others. Granted, the study was done in a theoretical “You are in a supermarket and have the choice between two items…” style format, so the results should be taken with a grain of salt, but it does offer an interesting tidbit to chew on. The participants were more likely to buy “green” products when they were shopping in public. They were more apt to choose a green car over the green dishwasher over the green dishwashing liquid…note the decrease in “publicity” in these items. Even though the dishwashing liquids cost the same, people were not very likely to go with the green one. I’d have thought that was a pretty clear choice.

Maybe this is why environmental groups are so quick to cry that the sky is falling. The group they depend on to grow their revenue is a fickle group of conspicuous consumers that are only into the green movement because it’s trendy. Their ability to keep the raft of environmental fashion afloat will depend on their ability to provide the public with both the reason and the product, regardless of the actual state of things. The longer they can claim Impending Doom and offer conspicuously consumable goods (the more conspicuous the better) the longer the donations will be coming in. If this concept was in the dictionary it’d have a picture of a Prius next to it.

This also explains why the No Impact Man method or minimalism/simple living aren’t catching on as more than trends in the counterculture. It’s much harder to conspicuously consume when your lifestyle choice is to consume as little as possible. Granted, it’s possible, especially if you suddenly decide to redecorate in High Minimalist, complete with the artsy and overpriced furniture that transforms into a fucking robot or something.

Once again I’m dancing on the edge (if I haven’t already fallen in) of Greener-Than-Thou, but this is why I’m so damn pessimistic about the Movement. It’s nothing more than yet another outlet for the affluent to assuage their white liberal guilt.

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One Response to “Keeping up with the environmental Joneses”

  1. I want a hybrid badge for my truck for Christmas :o

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