This third and final excerpt from [Callenbach, Ernest. Living Cheaply With Style. Ronin Publishing, 1993.], as the first two excerpts, resonates with my own attempts at expressing who I am. One of my favorite words has become enough: “sufficient to meet a need or satisfy a desire; adequate.” Callenbach is definitely writing from within a specific political “box” (which is more than evident in later passages, as well as a portion of this third excerpt), and I like to keep as far away as possible from partisanship, but much of his voice rings true for me. –SB
The Green Triangle.
Living an ecologically responsible life doesn’t mean self-sacrifice and austerity; on the contrary, it should bring you a richer, more interesting, fuller, longer, and healthier life. But so far nobody has been able to dramatize this on a national level in the folksy, convincing way in which Ronald Reagan and Ivan Boesky made greed respectable.
Does ecological living make attractive sense for Americans? It had better, or we can start preparing a suitable tombstone for our nation—and the rest of the globe, which follows our cultural lead. Helpful as they may be, we need more than a cafeteria menu of 50 or 750 ecological good practices to choose among.
Luckily, on the whole it works to assume that the universe displays reassuring regularities that we can rely on. This goes for science almost without saying, since without prediction of regularities it’s impossible to devise experiments. But it is also reassuringly true of our daily lives. However chaotic they sometimes seem, they have patterns; we can actually make sense of the ways things work, and react accordingly.
One way we can understand some critical everyday regularities is by considering what I call the Green Triangle. It’s a handy means of generating for ourselves ideas for personal and community and national change. (Ecological matters are also inevitably social; we can’t do it all individually.)
The three points of the triangle are environment, health, and money. The principle that relates these three points is: Anytime you do something beneficial for one of them, you will almost inevitable also do something beneficial for the other two—whether you’re aiming to or not.
For example, let’s suppose you decide to take action to improve your health, by eating less fat-filled meat and dairy products. This will, of course, decrease your chance of circulatory disease and probably prolong your life; it may even make you stronger and give you greater endurance. But since meat and dairy products are relatively expensive, you will also save quite a bit of money; moreover, you will also help the environment—since meat production is a very land-intensive and resource-consuming use of our farm productive capacities.
But you can start at any point of the Green Triangle. Let’s assume you do something beneficial for the environment, like walking or bicycling instead of driving your car. You cut down pollution emissions, you reduce smog and lung damage, you decrease acid rain, and you may help postpone the greenhouse effect. But you’ll also help your health, because you get more regular exercise, and you’ll save money on gas, oil, and car depreciation.
The third point of the Green Triangle is actually just as potent. Anytime you do something beneficial for your pocketbook, like not buying an expensive gizmo whose manufacturing expends a lot of energy and uses a lot of raw materials, or not taking an expensive trip that turns a lot of petroleum into atmospheric pollution and noise, you’re also helping the Earth. But you’re probably also doing your health a favor, since you’re less stressed out to earn the money to pay off the gizmo or trip; and not pouring a lot of emotional energy into interacting with the gizmo leaves time and attention for other human beings and the kind of spontaneous improvisation and fooling around that our species evolved to be good at. (And don’t keep this good news to yourself, or show reinforcing enthusiasm—or envy—toward friends boasting of the latest acquisition. The best way to get somebody to stop doing something is to ignore it, and praise other behaviors.)
If you apply the Green Triangle to your everyday life, examples of delightful synergistic effects can be found everywhere; you come out with many useful new perceptions. Some cases: Low- or no-cost fun with other people is almost always more ecologically and financially desirable than hard work and heavy consumption; evidently evolution did not commit an ecological error in making us playful. Exchanges outside the cash economy—trading massages, for instance, or passing on extra vegetables, knowing your neighbor will probably someday help you with a carpentry problem—don’t have monetary ramifications you have to worry about, whereas if you pay for a massage, the money may go into a bank, and you know what they do with it. Growing or making your own is usually cheaper and healthier, as well as more ecologically benign. Fun, isn’t it? So go triangulate!
One last word: even using the Green Triangle, we must still remember that there is no such thing as innocent purchasing, even in countries with eco-labeling programs that guide consumers to “less-damaging” products. Of course, it’s good to buy things that do less damage, and we have budding labeling programs in this country, such as the Green Cross and the Green Seal. To keep a sense of proportion, however, the really ecologically damaging things we do are to use cares, eat meat, have more than one child per parent, and live in dispersed single-family dwellings (apartment living is something like five times more energy- and materials-efficient). Even the most devoted recycling and conserving will not outweigh the enormous effects of these basic factors. You may not be able to consider change in all of them at once, but how about trying just one?
The other difficult-to-accept green principle is this: Buy less in general. There are a few things that we, the rich peoples of the Northern, industrialized countries, can buy that really do positive good for the Earth: photovoltaic cells and solar hot-water heaters, for instance, which move us toward a solar economy. But learning to live more contentedly with less income and less consumption of goods vastly outranks all other things we might choose to do to lessen our ecological impacts. Odd as it may seem, the simple act of consuming less is probably the most radical step you can personally take to save the Earth.