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Help the economy and the environment

California is already seeing a “solar boom”

Listening to a commentary on Marketplace yesterday evening, I was reminded of the conflict between consumerism and — let’s call it — “environmental restraint”. The basic premise of a stimulus package is to give consumers more cash to spend: consumers buy stuff; demand for stuff increases; jobs are created to make more stuff; more people have more jobs, earning more money and want to buy yet more stuff.

While more “stuff” may be good for the economy, it’s rarely a positive thing for the environment. Stuff takes energy to produce, energy to transport, and energy to discard at the end of its useful lifetime.

And so with the natural wariness of someone that doesn’t want to see the country dive into recession, I pondered the tension between economic stimulus and sound ecological responsibility.

Turns out I’m not the only one. In this week’s Businessweek magazine, Pallavi Gogoi explores some similar themes. The article notes a growing awareness of the environmental effects of consumerism. Gogoi concludes:

The growing environmental awareness, and tougher economic times, could even influence the effectiveness of economic stimulus plans now being weighed by the Bush Administration and Congress. The kind of free spending the government hopes consumers will revert to might be difficult in this new mood.

But economic stimulus need not be bad for the environment. And, as the Sierra Club’s Josh Dorner writes for Grist this week, some legislators are doing their best to give the environment some stimulus along with the economy. A range of credits and investment bonds has been approved for inclusion in the Senate stimulus package. Now it’s down to the voting…

It can be possible to consume and be environmentally responsible (Smart Strip, anybody?), but it’s not always easy. So a question for our readers: how do you do your consumer’s duty to your country and your economy while also being a good environmentalist?

Photo available under Creative Commons license from Flickr user remintola.

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