Thursday, September 3, 2009

Can a Global Warming Skeptic Still be Green?

Let’s get the politically controversial stuff out of the way first. I’m a global warming skeptic. I don’t buy into the science or the conclusion. It’s just my nature to question what everyone blindly accepts as the truth. When global warming evangelicals like Al Gore and Thomas Friedman live in houses that emit more carbon in a month than my house does in a year, I have to wonder if they are truly serious, or if they think the causes of global warming don't apply to them. I also think Cap and Trade is less about controlling carbon emissions than it is about enriching Wall Street with another trading market (didn’t Enron pioneer carbon trading?), and another way for politicians to control people’s behavior and extract more money from them without calling it a tax. But who am I? I’m just Joe Everyman trying to make my way in the world, provide for my family, teach them good habits like staying out of debt, and save something for retirement. I’m a very frugal guy. I want to stretch my dollar as far as possible. But I also want to be good steward of the all resources at my disposal and leave this world a better place than I found it. And here’s where I think pinching pennies and being green intersect. The economic choices made by the cheapskate trying to save a buck might also be green choices.

What do I mean by this? Let’s look at some real world examples:

  • electricity consumption – my thermostat is turned down to the upper 60s in the winter and the upper 70s in the summer. I heat with natural gas, and cut the AC off in summer whenever we can live with the windows open. I dry my clothes outside as much as possible and run the dryer very little. My major electronic devices are all on surge protectors that we flip off when not in use so they don’t suck electric when idle. I user compact florescent light bulbs in all my lamps. I’d be willing to buy solar panels or a small wind turbine to generate my own electricity if the payback period were significantly less than today’s 7-8 years. Nothing would make me happier than to see the electric meter spinning backwards as we feed power out onto the electric grid.
  • gasoline consumption – I buy cars that get at least 28 mpg or more to save on the cost of refills. I drive as little as possible, telecommute at least 2 to 3 times a week, group errands into one trip. I’d be happy to buy any car that gets 100+ miles per gallon if one existed and could pass a crash test. I’d also be willing to buy a natural gas powered car if the prices were comparable to gas powered cars to keep energy dollars in the US.
  • recycling – I try to recycle as much as possible because I don’t believe in wasting resources. But I tune my buying habits to eschew soft drinks and bottled water, convenience foods, anything that comes in small plastic packages. My goal is to reduce the need to recycle by buying items in packing that uses fewer raw materials.
  • gardening – I grow vegetables in a small garden to save money at the grocery store and because I think they taste better. I compost instead of using commercial fertilizers.
Do these actions mean I’m green even if I don’t buy into the green agenda? My decisions are motivated purely by economic self-interest, not self-sacrifice for the common good. I haven’t drunk anyone’s kool-aid. I’m just trying to maximize the value of the dollars I’ve earned. If the green economy is to make inroads with the average person, it must offer a better value than the traditional economy and thereby creatively destroy that economy. Schemes like Cap and Trade are efforts by governments to manipulate markets by artificially raising the price of carbon based energy to the point where green alternatives become cheaper for consumers. Why impose these extras costs on consumers? Instead, let’s spend our time, energy and money perfecting green alternatives until they are the most economical choice on an even playing field. As the saying goes, “if you build a better mousetrap, the people will come.”


  1. To offset the carbon output of his enormous home, Al Gore simply buys carbon credits from a company listed on the Chicago Climate Exchange. Of course he is a part owner of the Exchange, and he is also a part owner of the listed company. But that is normal, everyone is like that right?.

    Al Gore, is the world's first carbon baron. He's a piece of work.