Are you an Environmentally Conscious Consumer?

(The first in a recurring series on consumers’ impact of on the environment)

Going to a coffee place? Bring your own mug. Photo courtesy

We hear it time and again. Americans make up less than five percent of the Earth’s population and we consume approximately 25 percent of the world’s goods. Why and how? In a word: money. We have lots of it. And even when we may not have quite enough moolah to satiate our families’ desires for material goods, there seem to be few limits on how much we’re willing to borrow in order to satisfy our collective hunger. Credit cards, home equity loans and refinanced mortgages fuel our materialistic society.

And with those financial resources, we indulge ourselves in all sorts of stuff that strains our ecosystems, the air we breathe and our very lives. How many times have we seen so-called soccer moms driving around town alone, after they’ve dropped the kids off at . . . fill in the blank: school, soccer practice, dance lessons, Little League, etc. – in their Chevy Yukons or Ford Excursions? And as they go about their shopping chores they’re guzzling down (or is it “up”?) a gallon of gasoline every ten miles, give or take.

The law of supply and demand is going to change all that and more quickly than most of us think. Petroleum and natural gas are not renewable sources of energy. And prices at the gas pump are just beginning to show that. As countries like India and China (accounting for almost one half of the world’s population) modernize, the demand for fossil fuels, lumber and water is skyrocketing. One projection sees the price of gasoline in the U.S. to ratcheting up to eight dollars per gallon in the next ten years. And that’s in 2005 currency, not adjusted for inflation.

So what are you willing to do in order to contribute your fair share to – if not turn things around – at least slow the pace of consumption and the strain on Mother Earth? After all, at two-and-a-half bucks a gallon, a 40-gallon SUV gas tank now costs 100 bucks to refill.

There are waiting lists for 50 mpg Prius and Civic Hybrids now. When the cost of refilling large SUVS goes to over 300 dollars, where will you be? And a 20-mpg minivan is no bargain either.

Lumber and paper prices are rising as well. Virgin (i.e. not recycled) paper may soon be at a premium. That would be especially true if the current American administration runs into roadblocks from so-called tree huggers, a phrase loosely used these days as a term of derision for anyone who wants to place a priority on environmental protection over unfettered materialism and corporate profit.

What I’m driving at here is this. We can each play a part in reducing the stress on our planet and on each other. Let’s start with a few examples. You know all that paper that comes spewing out of your printer at home (and at work too, for that matter)? Do you toss it after you no longer need what you printed? It seems that most of what we print is stuff we really don’t need anyway. How about saving paper whose reverse side is blank and using it to print out the other stuff that doesn’t require pristine paper, like first drafts, email jokes and Web site purchase receipts? Using this simple method I’ve cut my paper use almost in half. If we all did this we could save gazillions of trees – give or take a zillion – each year. And are you meticulous about recycling paper? Come on! Big deal! For a provocative article on effects on the environment of Starbuck’s coffee cups, check out

If you’re driving a gas guzzler, think about a different choice next time. After all, what is an SUV? A sport car? Ha! Most of them are jacked-up, modified station wagons that car manufacturers equip with big tires and call sport utility vehicles. Can you say, “marketing to the gullible”? How many people ever take them off-roading? So where does the “sport” come in? For most folks a car with similar interior room will do just fine.

In the months ahead I will from time to time share more specific ideas on this topic. For now, please ponder the issue of an indulgent consumerist society for a few minutes before you kick back and crank up your DVD player or TiVo or VCR.