Image credit: Bradley Gordon, used under Creative Commons license.
There's no doubt that, for most people, recessions suck. Unemployment, job instability, poor returns on investments—these are all very real stresses on the average household. But what a recession means for the environment is a little less clear. On the one hand, as Lloyd has argued, recessions can have a positive environmental influence—from reducing excess consumption; through encouraging efficiency; to curbing unnecessary travel. On the other hand, says Mike, recessions have a deeply negative impact on the green economy too by squeezing R&D; budgets; encouraging consumption of cheaper, less sustainably produced goods; and making access to capital more difficult for the bright green start ups of the future.
I got to wondering whether there are ways that each of us can personally accentuate the green positives, and eliminate the negative, in this particular financial crunch. I started thinking about a personal green stimulus plan.
I'm not going to go all George Bush on you and tell you to go shopping. The fact is that buying less stuff, and making sure the stuff we do buy is well made, durable and sustainable is one of the most central planks of a greener economy. We need to learn to love our stuff.
But if we look at a recession as a time when everyone—from greener companies to the most polluting—are squeezed, we can seek to find ways to reward the good guys, move clean technologies and services forward, while the opposition is mired in the economic mud. Here are just a few ideas on how to make that happen:
Focus frugality on environmental don'ts: From the true price of gasoline through meat's carbon footprint to the impact of aviation, many of the largest pollutants also happen to be some of the biggest drains on a financial budget. Consider driving and flying less, eating less meat, and generally cutting back on those things that both harm the environment and your wallet first.
Put your money where your mouth is: Try to avoid cutting back on areas of your budget that you feel the strongest about. Keep shopping at the farmers market; support your local bike shop, keep saving for those energy efficiency improvements; and allow yourself that Fair Trade, organic coffee you love so much. The good news is that some of these "indulgences" may cost less than conventional products anyway and, even if they don't, you get the added benefit of knowing your money is contributing to keeping the businesses you cherish viable. You might even consider setting a personal goal—spending XX% more of your budget locally, or transferring some of the gas money you've been saving into a fund for green home improvements. With some research showing ethical consumerism bucking the recession, there are tantalizing signs that people are continuing to spend where they believe it matters.
Invest with care: Chances are that many folks are sick of seeing tax money spent on bailing out the financial institutions that contributed to this mess in the first place. If you're one of them, it might be time to put your money elsewhere. (It's not like you need that 1% APR they are offering right now anyway.) From eco-bonds supporting wind power to local Slow Money investing in green businesses, shifting your money to work for your values is a great way to stick it to the man, and reward the folks you care about at the same time.
Find or Create a Green Job: You may have heard, but unemployment is high right now. There are, however, bright spots—and green jobs is one of them. If you're currently looking for work, know someone who is, or if you are thinking of a career move, consider moving into the green jobs sector. And if there's a budding green entrepreneur inside of you, maybe it's time to take advantage of low interest rates and go into business for yourself.
Remember that money is a social construct: So far my suggestions have focused on traditional economic stimulus. But it is worth remembering that money is just a social construct, or a tool, to facilitate exchange. Many folks believe that the focus on relentless economic growth—whether driven by clean energy or oil exploration—is the root cause of our malaise anyway, and that we should take seriously the concept of no growth economics. Whether or not that is a realistic prospect right now, there are plenty of non-monetary ways you can both sure up your own well-being, and help create a resilient community around you.
From tool libraries through sharing gardens to crop mobs, we all have opportunities to put our skills, resources and enthusiasm to work for our communities, and the environment, without the need for spending a penny.
Recessions Hurt. But They Hurt Everyone.
I've heard many people worry that the current economic crunch may stifle the emerging green economy and lead us back to the status quo. It's certainly true to say that as soon as the economy started recovering, oil consumption leaped to a record high. But with almost every business suffering under reduced spending, we can see this as an opportunity to further accentuate a shift from extractive, harmful economics to something better. And with little chance of serious Government spending in the near term, we can't just leave it to Google to stimulate new green growth or IKEA to build the green energy infrastructure we need.
Most of us spend money somewhere—let's look for ways to shape our recovery in a direction that makes sense. Share your own thoughts on the theory and practice of building a personal green stimulus plan below.
More on Recession, Economics and the Green Economy
Higher Renewable Energy Standards Means More Jobs
How Portland's Tool Libraries Build Community
Eco-Bonds Fund Wind Power, and Cut Out the Bankers
Ethical Consumerism Bucks the Recession