Tuesday, October 29, 2013

@FutureChallenges: It's not easy being green

Here is an excerpt from my most recent article on Future Challenges, "It's not easy being green," where I discuss how environmentalism must be thought of as a luxury.

“It’s not that easy being green.” America’s favorite frog first made this profound statement in 1970, right as the green movement got its first legs. Although Kermit may have recanted somewhat for a recent Ford Escape Hybrid commercial (some say sold out), the wisdom behind his oft-repeated observation still remains true today. Living a green lifestyle is not that easy. In fact it can be quite expensive—a luxury difficult for many but the richest individuals, companies, and countries to afford.
Luxuries, by definition, are items that are much more easily available to those with expanded means. The rich can obviously afford more luxuries than the poor. Such a statement is so evident it would be almost silly were it not for the fact that far too many people fail to acknowledge that environmentalism is indeed a luxury. A green lifestyle is only possible when individuals, companies, and countries can afford it. In other words, to be green, one needs to be (relatively) well-off.
It's not that easy being green
It’s not that easy being green / CC Stephen Michael Barnett
Accordingly, economic growth is necessary to provide the extra income to afford greener practices. While higher incomes do not ensure a more sustainable lifestyle—since there are whole galaxies of luxuries for the rich to spend their money on—economic growth is the cornerstone upon which environmentalism must rest. Emerging economies, like China and India, and poor individuals struggling to make ends meet will never be able to afford a green lifestyle unless they are first able to pay for their basic needs.
In the US, for instance, a 2013 Ford Fusion SE (a mid-sized family sedan) has a base price of $23,800. The comparable hybrid edition starts at $27,200—over a 14% increase in price. At a large grocer in Princeton, NJ (a suburb of New York City) a dozen store-brand eggs cost $1.79. At $3.79,  comparable organic eggs are 112% more expensive, . Likewise, the cost of constructing green buildings according to LEED standards (a construction certification system) is $7.50 to $12.50 extra per square foot, an increase of 3%-8% of total construction costs. According to a recent study, the annual economic cost of environmental regulations on manufacturing plants was US$21bn over a recent 20 year period. This does not include direct costs of nearly US$8.5bn to the federal government in 2012 for running its chief environmental regulator, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).