To quote Wu-Tang, “Cash rules everything around me (C.R.E.A.M.!) get the money, dolla dolla bill, y’all.” Having attended boarding school as part of the minority of students on full financial aid, I was accustomed to having much less money than the people around me. So being able to hold down a few college jobs gave me a way to fill my time and my pockets. While I haven’t gotten around to investing yet, I enjoy saving. Being in control of my finances, which were out of my hands for much of my life, is a fine feeling.
I think many conservatives and libertarians sympathize. As far as I can tell they typically don’t like people taking their money, and they further dislike people telling them what they should and shouldn’t do with it. They like to exercise control of their homes, their families, and their futures in part by controlling their cash flow. More and more people are realizing the benefits of thrift during our current recession. Without the font of cash and credit they once enjoyed, Americans are trying to simplify their lives by cutting out wasteful spending and reasserting control of their debts.
The other good thing about money is that it is green. Yes, that kind of green. Saving money is environmentally sound. Conservatives rightfully complain that the environmental movement could be used as an excuse to dictate what sort of car you drive, how much energy you use, and even how many children you can have. Old fashioned conservatives at least want to limit the amount of government in their lives, and imposing new regulations runs counter to that philosophy. While religious arguments can be made to save the Earth, among them that we are stewards of it (not its owners) and that “God so loved the world,” they are not enough to convince people to conserve as religion fades as a source of personal guidance.
So those concerned with selling the “green” movement to conservatives, libertarians, and apathetic people should be talking about the other kind of green. Particularly since the threat of climate change does not seem to affect Americans on a personal level. Too often proponents couch the environmental movement in terms abstract to Americans, like saving Bangladesh (East Pakistan). Worse, wealthy celebrities usually make the case, advocating expensive things like organic foods with no proven health benefits and driving pricey hybrids. “Green” is currently synonymous with “élite.” That does not have to be the case, however. We can and must personalize the choices people make to show them that choosing conservation is empowering.
Americans will never be so altruistic as to favor the (currently) inferior light of CFLs to incandescent bulbs, but they will switch to save money. Parents prefer the convenience of disposable diapers, but this economic crisis has bolstered demand for the arguably more environmentally sound cloth variety. No freedom-loving American wants to give up her SUV for dinky public transport, but after all of the money saved on insurance, gas, repairs and productivity gained from being chauffeured there is a conservative argument to be made for catching the train. Finally, no one wants to sacrifice his steak-a-day diet, but highlighting the cost-benefit analysis of a constant carnivorous diet may cause to take notice.
This concept is not foreign to our grandparents. In the Depression people were used to never throwing anything away, and if it wore out they would fix it. Russians use and reuse plastic bags dozens of times because stores charge for them. They are sturdier than American plastic bags, too, since you pay for them. (We’ve been using some of our bags for 7 months without significant breakage.)
In our culture of upgrade we have lost sight of the thriftiness that made our grandparents conservationists. I am not saying we should not spend money on nice houses, cars, clothes, and the like. Rather, we should judge whether we need such items on a financial basis, and evaluate if having them will make a difference other than lightening our wallet. Such sober thinking will lead to less waste. I’m not sure what people should do with the extra cash, though. As always, that choice is up to them.
-Michael E. van Landingham