September 3rd, 2008


voting with your wallet

Recently my daughter Elaine wrote a piece on the concept of "voting with your pocketbook". It irritated her that this is what we are given as advice. She wanted more, different. It's as if our position as "consumers" is all we have in this capitalistic society. I have thought of this post frequently in the last several days.

Today I was looking through a little booklet I picked up at Green Goods in Atascadero. It's called Solstice and purports to be "the green directory for conscious change and healthy living" and in bold print it says "serving the central coast!". So it's meant for those of us who live where I do.

There are several suggestions for going greener, including a short article called "12 days to a greener you". These articles suggest things like composting, using reusable bags at the grocery, choosing recycled toilet paper and so on. The message is "if we all do these things the planet will thank us".

Who else will thank us? What is the incentive? A lot of us in fact do the right thing even when it is more expensive and more time-consuming. We recycle even when it costs us extra to have a company pick up our stuff (not in this area, but in other parts of the country). We unplug power consumers, buy energy-efficient appliances, we walk and bike more, drive more efficient cars. But a great many people in this country simply don't do anything or do very little. For them there needs to be more than a feeling of doing good.

What strikes me about articles like those in this little booklet is that they do not even suggest what would be far more effective: regulation.

It's such a dirty word that people forget how much good regulation can do when it is written well. Do you honestly think every car would have seatbelts if it were not the law? That people would be able to recover something from companies that create hazards knowingly (for example, companies that make drugs that they know are dangerous)? Laws that protect us from those with fewer scruples are a good thing. So here are some simple ones I suggest we lobby for:

1. Prohibit the availability of free shopping bags at grocery stores. Stores could offer bags for sale but could not give them away. This law is in effect in Ireland, for example, and it does not seem to have caused widespread havoc there. People quickly got used to it and bring their own bags.

2. Require certain products to be made from a minimum percentage of recyclable materials. Don't leave it up to us to make the right choice. Drop that bad choice off the shelves altogether.

3. Get serious about gas mileage. Require all vehicles to get at least 30 mpg, with exceptions only for large commercial vehicles.

4. Require recycling. People caught throwing recyclables into the trash would be fined. Make it easy, though. Don't require separation of recyclable materials. That is, glass and plastic and paper can all go together.

5. Set up community composters. I don't know how this would work yet but I suspect it can. Maybe it's just a matter of offering the use of composters to homeowners for free, or creating compost areas, well-maintained, where people can bring their stuff. I haven't looked into how to do this but every time I throw out compostable materials it hurts and I know there is a better answer.

6. My fave: stop requiring free parking of businesses and homes. That is, developers would not be required to include tons of free parking on site.

It's just a quick list, off the top of my head. Perhaps I can refine it and send it to my representative., seriously.