Earth Day is coming up this coming Sunday, so I wanted to contribute by sharing my personal story, thoughts, and beliefs on impact reduction, ethical responsibility, and personal finance and distill it all down into something you can take to heart and then take action on.
That’s a lot to accomplish in one blog post, so let’s get started…
Falling in Love All Over Again
I grew up with a hearty love for the outdoors.
Almost every waking minute was spent climbing trees, chasing frogs in the neighborhood creek, or visiting the local nature center or hiking trails. Oh, and riding a goofy looking (by today’s standards, it was kick-ass back then) single-speed Raleigh banana-seat bike, outdoors of course. I was like most kids in the early 80’s – in love with nature and the outdoors – whether I consciously knew it or not. It happened… naturally.
I didn’t watch much TV when I was younger, but when I did, one of my favorite television show (outside of WWF big time wrestling) was Marty Stouffer’s Wild America on PBS. Marty was a lumberjack-looking bearded fellow who would chase down and film wild animals in the good ole’ U.S. of A. Seeing the battle between life and death in untouched wilderness was mesmerizing.
I was not, however, raised with an environmental conscience. My parents (members of the the most wasteful generation on the planet, the Boomers) didn’t recycle much, built a large home in the burbs with a big commute, ate standard meat and potato fixings, and bought me most of clothes, toys, and video games my entitled, bratty-ass demanded.
Somewhere around middle school through high-school I got completely absorbed by video games, grunge music, and cable TV, minimum wage shit jobs, uninspiring school work, and teen angst. Looking back, it wasn’t the best period in my life and the fact that I spent very little time outdoors was undoubtedly a strong contributor.
In one of my social science courses in college, I read Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael. Being forced to read it in class, it didn’t really have an impact. But a year later, something was calling me back to the book. I hunted it down and immediately consumed it all in a day. This time, the message sunk in like a huge punch to the face: “This lifestyle that our recent ancestors have designed and we have adopted is far from natural, and it could end up destroying the entire planet.”
As I was dealing with the environmental ethical dilemmas presented to me in Ishmael and other books I started absorbing, I realized that I missed being outside. I began biking for the first-time in years. I re-discovered some of the nature trails I loved when I was younger and hiked them frequently. And I started to realize the healing power that nature provided. Every time I got outside to do something, my stress levels would go down, my angst would subside, my thoughts weren’t as cluttered – I was living in the moment.
This spiritual gift from the planet (which had already provided me life, food, air to breathe, shelter, and water to drink) grew my appreciation for the earth. I wanted to give back. I interned at an environmental protection group. I started thinking big picture about my impact on the environment and started doing little things to reduce my impact. I recycled whatever I could, made sure lights and the TV were turned off when I left my dorm room (where utilities were not an added cost), started taking shorter showers – the easy stuff.
Making the Impact Reduction/Wealth Connection
My focus has since grown with each passing year, with the more I learn about the impact of my consumption behaviors and how I can cut back. Some of our accomplishments include:
- Driving our electricity consumption to less than a third of the average household for my state (I eventually want to purchase a solar array and get this below zero).
- Keeping our non-recyclable waste down to around 3-4 gallons of volume per week (my goal is zero).
- Selling off our second car to become a one-car family and busing/biking to work (as soon as wife stops drive to/from school, our annual miles will be less than 3,000).
- Getting rid of half my personal belongings while selling on Craigslist, in a garage sale, or donating 100% of it.
- Moving to a smaller home instead of a larger one (and wanting to go even smaller).
- Switching to a vegetarian diet (HUGE impact on the planet and on personal savings).
- Eating almost 100% organic food (I want to grow my own and purchase more from local producers).
- Consuming much less to the level of keeping our combined expenses to less than $20k per year.
I’ve come a decent ways vs. the standard, but I also have A LOT of room for improvement. I am continually striving to do better. And I put an immense amount of pressure on myself to do so. There’s no going back for me.
If you are just starting out, don’t get discouraged. Most of us were born following in the footsteps of the wasteful Boomer legacy. We all have to start somewhere.
You’ll notice that each of the improvements I’ve highlighted have the benefit of not only reducing my impact on the environment, but also driving my expenses into the ground and my personal savings rate to rare levels.
As my interest in personal finance has grown at the same time, what I’ve come to realize is that impact reduction and personal wealth are 100% correlated.
My Hard-Line Approach
When you live in one of the most wasteful, consumer-driven countries on the planet, it is expected that you will follow suit. When you don’t, you are provided with an immense opportunity to prosper. There is a very tight marriage of impact reduction and personal finance.
That’s why you’ll find a gigantic eco-savings category of articles here. It’s why I laid down the electricity savings challenge (more than a dozen of you have started monitoring your energy, FTW). It’s why I had a dramatic counseling session with Mother Earth. It’s why I hate Black Friday. And it’s why you’ve seen me take a very hard-line approach to the negative impacts of wasteful consumerism and those who advocate on its behalf.
Despite a few snapperhead troll reader’s efforts to make my environmental stance a political debate and tell me what an idiot I am, nothing about the following stance is political:
Humans have an ethical responsibility to their fellow humans, future generations, and themselves to reduce their negative impact on the very thing that gives them life – the earth. And in the process of doing so, they will prosper economically and spiritually. If they don’t, the consequences to the planet, themselves, and the human race will be catastrophic.
I don’t care if you are Republican, Democratic, Green, Socialist, Libertarian, American, Chinese, black, white, red, yellow, purple – if you can get behind this line of thinking, you are part of the solution. If you can’t, what better alternative do you have to provide? I beg of you to tell me.
Some who share these beliefs have thrown up their arms with a sense of hopelessness when they see or hear of all of the environmental degradation. At times, I have been there myself.
I still think there is hope. There is a small, but quickly growing movement. But the window of opportunity is quickly closing.
Do you need some motivation to join the movement or take it to the next level? Check out the Story of Stuff and read Ishmael. Then get out and start doing things.
It starts with YOU. No more chirping. Start taking action. Save your money while reducing your impact and everyone wins – especially YOU.
Impact Reduction Discussion:
- What is your personal story on why you want to make a difference by reducing your impact on the planet?
- What things have you done that have the dual benefit of reducing impact/increasing wealth?
- What are you pledging to do this year to make a difference?
Is this “ethical responsibility” some type of relative inner chi standard that we all have to discover for ourselves? Or, is there an actual standard in there? The problem is, the only thing acceptable to GE Miller is what GE Miller is doing. It’s easy for us to pick and choose what we want to do and then look down our nose at others for not doing it.
So, where do we draw the line? Are computers an “ok” modern convenience that take up lots of plastics, use batteries, use electricity? What about watching TV? You keep it unplugged when you’re not using it, but do you really need it to survive? Do you really even need a vehicle at all? Make your kids and wife walk to school or ride a bike. Those supposed 3,000 miles/year you may drive at some point in the future, do you really need to do that? Why public transportation? You should bike all year round. Many people do that in all parts of the world.
Everyone has to start somewhere. This post was meant to highlight my starting point, where I’m at, where I’m aiming to go, and the relationship between impact reduction and wealth (which I write about a lot here).
I understand people are at different stages. I used to be absolutely horrible in every single area of life. And I got there (like most) because I was raised that way.
The point here is not a prescription, but to light the internal fire to improve upon where you are at. There is no one-size fits all prescription. It is, however, fairly easy to realize what is right or wrong on your own, if you educate yourself. Once educated, one has to live with their decisions, and that’s where the ethical part comes in.
I think you missed the point of this post.
I agree with almost all of what you say but the one thing I’m curious about is your savings. I assume that you invest a lot of that savings, but isn’t an investment in a company essentially just a vote of confidence that they will continue to produce products or services and continue to be profitable doing so? The money you earn isn’t going anywhere unless you burn it, so won’t it all just be turned back into stuff eventually one way or another?
Great question with a complicated answer that I could literally write for hours about, so I’ll try to keep it simple:
1. I am not against business or capitalism. My environmental stance does not = no investing, b/c:
2. There are a lot of businesses that do things ethically and/or make the world a better place. You WON’T find me investing in BP, but you might find me investing in solar.
3. There’s also something to be said for me to invest, grow my wealth, so that I may donate it or reapply myself in areas where I am making the world a better place.
I think socially responsible investing (SRI) is a great thing. You may have just prompted an entire post…
It’s all relative and about positive impact. Obviously, it would be virtually free to go live in a mountain cave and eat berries and bugs for the rest of your life. That isn’t really necessary or the suggested lifestyle. G.E.’s point is that becoming aware of the environment and making easy adjustments to your lifestyle will be a more frugal way to live – a Win!Win! Also in making investment choices you don’t need to buy stocks in companies that are environmentally unfriendly, there are a multitude of other options.
I really loved this post and have included a link to it in ReadyForZero’s Monday Shout Outs http://blog.readyforzero.com/monday-shout-outs-green-edition/. Your post is perfect given this week’s topic – saving money while saving the environment. Here at ReadyForZero, we’re doing everything we can to help people pay off debt and our blog features news and updates on anything that can help people improve their financial picture. Feel free to check it out and let me know what you think! I think you’re doing a great job on your blog and I’d love to keep in touch!