No, Green Lifestyles Aren't 'Only for the Rich'

©. Tesla

A Tesla won't get a camel through the eye of a needle.

When Ilana busted the myth that vegetarian eating is inherently more expensive than meat eating, it got me thinking about another old and decidedly annoying canard:

That sustainable living is only feasible for the well-to-do.

Anyone who has perused a British tabloid newspaper or watched much Fox News will be familiar with the argument. Latte-sipping urban liberals are trying to push their elitist lifestyles on "real" citizens, but not everyone can afford a Tesla Model X or a weekly grocery shop at Whole Foods.

But the fact is, TreeHugger is full of stories to remind us that wealth is just as often a hindrance as it is a help to someone seeking to live sustainably: Meat consumption tends to rise as populations get wealthier; folks arguing over climate change at Davos most likely are arriving by private jet; and even a small second home is (sorry, Lloyd) still a second home.

Now, that said, Lloyd has just reported that there is some correlation between class and wealth and how we move around—with wealthier college grads biking and using mass transit more. And it's fair to say that supporting early-stage solar power or buying electric vehicles has tended to be the domain of the better off. Indeed, as someone who regularly argues that a person's personal carbon footprint is less important than what and how they are moving society toward sustainability, I want to be careful not to take this refutation too far.

Environmentalism is absolutely not "only for the rich". But it's also not "only for the poor" either. The real truth lies in the fact that we must all figure out where our leverage is in creating society-wide change. If you're a hedge fund billionaire, I'm personally much more interested in whether you donate many, many millions to planting trees, innovating green energy or supporting equitable political solutions to the climate crisis than whether or not you live in a big house or fly a lot... although giving up the private jet probably wouldn't be a bad idea. By contrast, if you're not so well off, personal lifestyle choices may be one of the places where you have the most leverage—both in terms of spreading your social influence and using your financial resources to move things in the right direction.

And, however wealthy you are, I'd suggest it's important to vote, vote, vote. (But think twice before mounting an independent run for President.) And then we all need to work together to make sure that everyone has access to the benefits of a low carbon economy—whether that be affordable, efficient housing or cities and towns that don't require owning a tank to move around safely.

Every single one of us has a long way to go. Don't beat yourself up about where you find yourself now. Just find your point of influence and start leading from where you stand. And don't let anyone tell you that greener living is for the rich. In fact, the richer you are the harder you'll have to work to counteract your negative impact.