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Activism

Is Recession Good for the Environment?

Watching a stock ticker in 1929. (Image credit: U.S. government at Wikimedia Commons, released into public domain.)Whether or not we’re actually in a recession (it feels like one from where I’m standing), there’s been a lot of discussion about if that could be a good thing for the environment.

The pro side’s argument goes like this: Yes, because people spend less during a recession. That means fewer miles driven and flown, fewer factory items shipped, more items reused and recycled rather than replaced.

Sounds logical, right?

But the con side makes reasonable points, too. No a recession isn’t good for the environment, this argument goes, because less spending means less money for things that benefit the environment: clean technology, green innovations, fair-trade and organic foods, and so on.

Still, while I’m not wishing hard times on anyone, I do see an upside to the current tough economy. Look at all the news stories about moms who now make their own laundry detergent and grow their own vegetables. Or the features about upscale urbanites who are increasingly shopping at second-hand (designer) stores. Or the reports about companies establishing shuttle bus services to get their employees back and forth to reduce individual gas expenses.

From my own perspective, it’s been a little good, a little bad. I don’t always buy organic foods as much as I used to, but I am gardening more. And while I can’t make it out to my favorite co-op as often as I once did (too far a drive when gas is nearing $4 a gallon), I am making more meals from scratch, even baking my own bread and making my own tortilla chips and potato chips.

I have to conclude that, while a recession isn’t in and of itself a good thing for the environment, the awareness it raises of our frivolous spending habits and wasteful ways is a good thing. And if that lasts after the economy revs up again, that’s got to be a plus.

What do you think? I’d be interested to hear how all of you are dealing with tough times and whether you think it’s made you a better, greener person.




9 comments
  1. John

    Hello there. I tackled this same issue on my own blog, The Footprint, and came to a simple conclusion: the recession is good for the environment. You can read the whole thing here: http://zoniereport.com/2009/03/the-recession-is-good-for-the-environment/

    Here’s the gist, though: “strong” world economic growth — say, the 5 percent or so we averaged in 2007, creates what mathematicians call “geometric” or “exponential” growth. So, at 5 percent growth, the world economy doubles every 13 years, give or take. Then the next time around, whatever was doubled doubles again, and so on. Does that sound sustainable? In a “recession” like the current one, growth is either negative or near zero.

    So, from within my white middle-class bubble, I can only ask all those who demand a return to a high-growth world: where does this all end?

  2. Johnny

    I agree. The recession definitely helps the economy. You only need to look at the SUV companies like Ford and GM struggling now to see that people are tightening their belts and driving less. Right now I am working overtime and buying as many stock and oil ETFs as possible. For the sake of the environment, I will hope the recession is long and deep, but if a recovery is on its way soon, I will be rich, so I can give a lot more to environmental causes.

  3. Kirk

    At the end, I am sure that recession does more damage to the economy than good, because during the recession stage there is less money in the market and in the banks. Threfore, if the money supply is reduced, then how can we bring new tehcnologies to improve our current inveromental damages?

  4. Shirley Siluk Gregory

    Ummm, I happen to be among the thousands of people who have seen their incomes drop dramatically (my husband and I are both self-employed, and are feeling the effects of a down economy first-hand) while facing a mountain of debt to keep our family housed and fed. While I understand there are others much less fortunate (many of whom are in my family or who I know personally), I am living in anything but a cozy bubble.

    The point of this post was to explore any possible upsides to a slowing economy, which — in my case — have included making a greater effort to conserve, reuse and grow my own food. These are all real steps I’ve taken to deal with a difficult situation, not self-indulgence and navel gazing. Why not have an honest, meaningful and blame-free discussion on the matter?

  5. Micky D

    Notice you dont mention the thousands upon thousands of people who would lose their jobs in a recession…and wouldnt be able to feed their families…but then i dont suppose anything outside of your white middle class bubble concerns you does it?

  6. Shirley Siluk Gregory

    Levi, I’ve found myself taking similar steps; for example, making my own bread more often than buying a loaf. My latest experiment: making my own wine. I’ll let you know how (or if) it turns out! 🙂

  7. Levi Novey

    Shirley, I finally found time to read your post, as it’s been calling my attention. I think that your thoughts are very timely, and I definitely think it’s good that you have brought to our attention a potential benefit to recessions. Making people realize ways that they can save money and also the need to drive long distances can create long-term changes for the better, even if a recession is sometimes just a short-term event. I, for one, have started to make my own pizza crusts to try to save money. It’s very easy, and in Peru is saving us about $3 or $4 per pizza. Luckily, where we live right now does not require too much driving.

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