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Participation in the Green Economy: A Question of Self-Interest


This post was submitted to the United Nations World Environment Day blogging competition, sponsored by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The theme of the competition is “The Green Economy: Does it Include You?” The winner of the competition will travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to attend World Environment Day 2012 and to help cover the event. (Update: I won the competition!)

Self-interest makes some people blind, and others sharp-sighted.” –François de La Rouchefoucauld

The name of the game is taking care of yourself, because you’re going to live long enough to wish you had.” –Grace Mirabella

When it comes to being self-interested, I don’t think the important question is whether you are or not. That’s because, like 17th century author François de La Rouchefoucauld, I believe that every human act is fundamentally self-interested.

Instead, I think the important question concerns which you value more: long-term self-interest or short-term self-interest. I’m convinced this is also the most important consideration when asking, “Am I a part of the green economy?”

Image credit: flickr user Sanska

When I first began to contemplate that question, the theme of this year’s World Environment Day, I was surprised to realize that my participation in the green economy is principally characterized by what I choose not to do. This came as a surprise because it’s contrary to the popular notion of what an economy is. In the West, we are taught that whether the economy prospers depends on how much we consume.

To me, the idea of living a ‘green lifestyle’ in a ‘green economy’ is largely about subtracting from the traditional economy. It’s about renting a bicycle from a bike-sharing program instead of owning a bike. It’s about growing your own food using organic practices instead of buying organic food from a multinational corporation.

It’s not about shopping online for a chair made from a recycled wine barrel–it’s about realizing you don’t need a chair made from a recycled wine barrel.

I haven’t yet made all the green lifestyle choices I’d like to make. But I aspire to, and I recognize that making them or not is almost always a decision between my short-term interests and my long-term ones. That’s true in at least three ways:

1) Green choices often save money. For instance, if I walk instead of commuting by bus or car, I save the cost of bus fare–or the cost of gas, insurance, and maintenance of a car.

2) Green choices make me happier. Since they often save money, making them allows me to reduce the time I have to spend working, and to use that time to cultivate relationships with family, friends and members of my community. Research demonstrates that’s what makes us truly happy.

3) Green choices help preserve the environment and ecological systems upon which humanity’s existence depends. It may serve my short-term gratification to consume five times my share of resources, but it doesn’t serve my long-term interest in surviving.

The traditional economy is based on neverending expansion, and it’s practically redundant to point out that’s unsustainable on a finite planet. Businesses need to look beyond the next quarterly report. And we all need to make do with much less, and what we do use, we need to reuse–over and over again. That’s the green economy.

Image credit: flickr user anitasarkeesian

I live in Canada, and here, it often seems like our government isn’t interested in including its citizens in the green economy–despite that 85% of us think we should be. In December of 2011, Canada withdrew from the Kyoto accord, having failed to honour its commitment to limiting greenhouse emissions. Instead, Canada’s emissions have risen by around a third since 1990, and since President Obama rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline (which would have transported carbon-dense tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico for processing), the Canadian government has vowed to “diversify and expand our [oil] markets”. My government is prioritizing short-term profit over long-term stability.

I think it’s important both for Canadians and for citizens of the world to always consider their long-term interests. And, given all the carbon that will be emitted and all the resources that will be used, I think it’s crucial that whoever wins this competition works hard to cover World Environment Day 2012 in a way that is interesting and accessible to all.

If you’d like to help increase this post’s chances of winning, Like it on Facebook or Tweet it using the hashtag #WED2012.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. 02/06/2012 11:43 PM

    I think a lot of us are constantly asking “what can we do?” in hopes that we can busy ourselves with “trying to save the world”… in reality, you are right, and it’s about doing a lot less. I think in our busy world a lot of us are afraid of that. Great post.

    • 02/07/2012 1:11 PM

      Thank you! I also think ‘saving the world’ will have to be a collaborative effort, too–ironically, it will often have to be a collaborative effort to do less.

  2. Andrea permalink
    02/07/2012 4:02 PM

    Hear, hear, Scott!

    Regarding organic food grown by multinational corporations, this is a huge issue for me (as most food issues are). Everything is so black and white these days that most people assume choosing organic over conventional is always better. Granted, avoiding pesticides is awesome… but that’s not where the issue ends. Giant organic farms growing monocultures in California with the help of an unfairly treated labour force isn’t my idea of environmental and social responsibility. You have to grow food yourself or talk to the farmer/farm worker who grew your food to know how it actually came into your hands.

    • 02/08/2012 12:08 PM

      I couldn’t agree more. I’m increasingly beginning to think that when it comes to food, ‘locally-grown’ is a more important attribute than ‘organically-grown’.

      Like you said, the corporations whose produce is organically certified usually aren’t very environmentally and socially responsible. As well, corporations have lobbied governments to make the process of applying for organic certification expensive and complicated–in doing so, shutting out small-scale farmers. So one’s local farmer could very well have better practices than the average agri-corp, but probably isn’t able to afford to apply for organic certification.

      Not to mention all the carbon emissions that are sidestepped by buying locally!

      • Andrea permalink
        02/08/2012 1:17 PM

        Speaking of organic certification, have you heard of Local Food Plus ( They certify locally, sustainably grown food (fresh produce as well as processed foods) at a more reasonable fee than the big organic certifiers charge. LFP certification means no synthetic pesticides and fertilizers (or as little as possible, which is reasonable), no hormones, antibiotics, genetic modification, the conversation of soil and water, fair labour, humane treatment of livestock, protection of wildlife and biodiversity on the farm, and reduced energy consumption and GHG emissions. It’s the whole package.

        • 02/11/2012 3:25 PM

          I haven’t actually, but that sounds like a great organization. It’s one of those extremely clever solutions that seems obvious now that I’ve heard of it. Corporations monopolize organic certification? No problem–create an alternative certification process that’s more meaningful. Brilliant! I’ll definitely keep an eye out for it.

  3. Raven Warren permalink
    02/26/2012 8:10 AM

    I love that picture of the vegetable basket. Just saying :) What’s a real meal without those colors anyways? Will be nice to pick them from the back yard.

  4. cynopsis permalink
    04/08/2012 8:25 PM

    Good work. I just cast my vote for you as UNEP’s blogger for World Environment Day.


  1. Participation in the Green Economy: A Question of Self-Interest (Winner of Blogging Competition 2012) | AN EFFORT OF AN AGRICULTURE STUDENT

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