And other words from readers
I think all these anti-SUV ads are great at educating the public on the environmental atrocities of these gas-guzzling vehicles, but I question their overall effectiveness. They may prevent a small number of people from buying SUVs and make some current SUV owners feel guilty, but many people believe they need SUVs for their lifestyles. Guilt isn’t a major factor in the marketing world; it tends to make people very defensive.
I think a supplemental campaign should be launched to fight for SUVs that get better gas mileage. This campaign should rally SUV owners to lobby for better fuel efficiency, which would save them money. If they do choose to drive SUVs (which they will), why shouldn’t they have the choice that car owners now have? Rather than continually demonizing SUV owners, let’s get them to fight on our side.
In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be any SUVs, but I believe they are here to stay, so let’s make them better.
New York, N.Y.
Re: Not Buying It
I enjoyed the article by Eric Brown on the frenzied season of consumption. It’s wonderful to know others feel as I do. As a financially poorer 20-something, I came up with a fabulous idea for the upcoming giving season (only 11 1/2 months to get ready!). I like the idea of donating to a charity instead of giving a gift, but this, too, can add financial strain. As a compromise, I decided to volunteer my time — after all, “time is money.” By estimating the cost of a traditional gift and determining how many hours I would have to work to make that much money, I came up with the number of hours I will volunteer in the name of each of my loved ones. To really make these the ideal gifts, I’m choosing organizations that my loved ones support, even if it means volunteering at several places.
This is a gift that keeps on giving. It is a good way to raise awareness about holiday consumption and promote volunteerism (and a good, stealthy way to promote your own agenda). What’s better is that right now is the perfect time to start planning, since many have been known to make a New Year’s resolution to “do more” or “volunteer more” for the coming year.
Fort Collins, Colo.
Re: Not Buying It
While I empathize with pains felt by small retail businesses, particularly after the “failed” holiday season of 2002, I want to report feeling truly joyful about my own holiday festivities. Thanks to gift-giving name exchanges in both our families and lifestyle-simplification among our friends, my husband and I enjoyed one shopping trip to Plowsharing Crafts, a local international-goods store that returns profits directly to the artisans and craftspeople who produce them. We gave a few beautiful, unique, and well-received gifts, in good conscience and within sane budget bounds.
I gave myself the gift of tuning out most news and commercial media for most of December — a big shift, as I am a devoted talk-radio consumer, including hosting a weekly environmental talk show here in St. Louis. I listened to music and sang a lot instead, enabling me to maintain a positive — indeed, joyful — attitude, and to offer that joy into the universal pool in an era when it is surely needed.
I was surprised by the power of these simple changes in my holiday routine. They enabled me to give of my time and attention in ways I felt were worthy of the true spirit of the holidays: renewal of hope, love, generosity, light, and peace — and the energy to maintain and apply these qualities in the new year.
St. Louis, Miss.
Re: Not Buying It
I often think that my grandmother had an easier time raising her four daughters in a steel-mill town in England during World War II than we do! My children (10, eight, and six) are now wise to the art of advertising, so the holidays are always a time of having to constantly explain why consumerism is wrong.
As for consumerism, I am currently trying to stop a very large seller of consumer items whose associates wear blue smocks from moving into my rural community. People look at me as if I am crazy when I say that we can’t base our economy on retail sales. People need to make stuff or grow stuff, fix stuff or invent stuff, not just put stuff on the shelf or ring it up.
I love Grist because I am always reassured that I am not the only one who feels consumerism is evil.
Re: Not Buying It
On the one hand, we are told to spend, spend, spend. On the other hand, we are reminded by the media doomsayers that we are in credit-card debt way over our heads.
Something has to give here. Both cannot be correct. We are in debt because we feel obliged to have the latest stuff even if we really do not need it. No wonder the rest of the world perceives us as a nation of infants who need their pacifier fix by stopping in every store along the way. I reduced my holiday spending by a considerable amount, not so much because I couldn’t afford the purchases but because my family and friends simply don’t need more stuff.
A great message. Right on!
Re: Not Buying It
Although I am definitely an advocate of simplifying the holidays, consuming less, and giving gifts of time and company, I think it may be somewhat naive to believe that just because Americans spent less at the mall this season, they have started a trend toward responsible consumption and simplifying one’s life.
I am constantly battling the idea that to be an environmentalist is to be wealthy, educated, and (probably) white — that is, to be someone who can afford to spend time with his or her family during the holidays. Have people even considered that while people might not have been showing up in droves at the mall and the local mega-discount store, they also might not have been sitting at home with their children and families reading books and cooking dinner? Most likely, the average American who spent less money this holiday season was working overtime, working two jobs, or looking for work while their children were with a babysitter or in daycare.
Our pipedream that these people were educating their children about the evils of consumerism while baking cookies at home with them is most likely just that: a dream. I’m not saying it didn’t happen anywhere. Perhaps it happened in an affluent ‘burb in Connecticut. But how many of us have said over the years: “Wow! There are more and more stores open during Christmas and the holidays!”? Who do you think the employees working over the holidays are? They are the average American consumer who, unfortunately, has to work a double shift instead of being at home with children and families.
Re: No Comment
I’m really angered by holier-than-thou vegetarians who claim that meat-eaters are not true environmentalists. I commute by bike or bus, I buy organic, I shop for environmentally friendly and bio-degradable products, I conserve energy, I donate time and money to green groups like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, and I make a valiant effort to simply consume less. All that can’t count for nothing.
Furthermore, I’ve tried vegetarianism and ended up with migraine headaches, exhaustion, and a depressed immune system. I even made sure to get all kinds of protein. I know countless healthy vegetarians, so there must be a biological factor involved, just like how some people are lactose-intolerant or allergic to nuts.
When I eat meat, I steer clear of McDonalds and the like. I’ll usually get my own organically raised animal flesh and cook it myself. I still may be killing animals, but I can do it with a conscience. Besides, bulgur wheat is some seedling’s mother, too.
Veggie-two-shoes who criticize us carnivores are simply wasting valuable environmentalist energy. Worry about Bush, Jr., for crying out loud, not an organic chicken burrito.
While this story seems to present hard choices, it totally fails to consider two very basic ideas: cutting use of electricity through simplified lifestyles and more efficient gadgets, and using solar power, which neither kills birds nor creates an eyesore. Although solar panels are made of petroleum products, solar does not seem to be nearly as destructive as wind power.
The story also fails to address a basic problem, which is that all electricity should be generated locally, in order to eliminate ugly, bird-killing power lines. If this were done and all buildings had solar panels on their roofs, there would be less need for windmills and overly large projects like this one would not need to be considered.
San Francisco, Calif.
If the “locals and summer residents” share such a strong “environmental ethos,” then wind energy is exactly what they should be supporting. Those who claim to be environmentalists cannot afford to be compartmentalists. This is a measure which benefits everyone, whether you are a Democrat or Republican, wealthy or not. We need to get to a place where wind energy is what we all see as important and vital for our future.
We have a windmill battle going on here in Ellensburg, Wash., about 100 miles east of Seattle, on the other side of the Cascade Mountains.
The issue here is mainly one of real estate. This is open cattle and farming country, which is currently becoming popular for mega-housing developments and retirement homes. The size of the windmills (which can be seen for miles around) reduces the aesthetic appeal of the area, the value of property, and the ability to generate as much money from new development projects. I might even go so far as to say that the landowners and developers here are trying to stir up environmentalists in opposition to the windmills, a rather nefarious tactic.
My point is, environmentalists need to realize that this sort of coercion is out there and they need to make their decisions (pro or con) on windmills based on real science and ecology. Beware special interests using environmental agendas to stir up dissent among those of us who really care about the environment.
Re: Subway Diet, by
I’m confused. In reference to the story on the New York City subways, why do you make it sound so bad that a mass-transit system is self-sufficient (or nearly so)?
New Yorkers should be proud that their system is efficient enough that they can ride to work for far less than it would cost to drive, while not contributing to global warming and not needing to have you or me subsidize them with our tax dollars.
I question any attempt to justify that any U.S. citizen living outside the Big Apple should pay for New Yorkers to ride to work. One of my favorite cousins lives on Long Island and commutes into the city, but as much as I care for my family, I do not wish to pick up his fare for getting to work each day.
Let’s be proud that there is a metropolitan area that is not a drain on our tax base — at least, not on this issue. If we had more municipalities like this, maybe we could all get a tax break.
Ronald D. Courts
Re: Botanically Correct, by
Thanks for offering Kim Todd’s well-written article and the thoughtful letters in response. Using terminology that dances around the edges of racism (nonnative, immigrants) and violence (weed warriors, invasion) to educate about the challenges of protecting biodiversity is, indeed counterproductive. We who are concerned about conservation need to listen to what people are saying. People love trees. People love brightly colored flowers. People love plants that remind them of special places and moments in their lives.
Now, our challenge is to accept these givens and determine how best to maintain natural biodiversity and ecological relationships while also respecting our human attachments. Alarmist vocabularies and tactics don’t work, and scientific arguments convince only a few. The rest of us are apt to be insulted by “scientific proof” that what we love is all wrong.