The Environment and Our Economic Woes

There’s been much discussion of late about a silver eco-lining in the world’s economic troubles.  But will the current financial meltdown really benefit the environment?  Maybe – but it’s more likely to be a wash.

Simple logic tells us that economic slowdowns could be good – manufacturing goes down, emissions are reduced, and fewer green house gases are released into the atmosphere. Deutsche Bank recently predicted that economic recession could cut Europe’s carbon dioxide emissions by 100 million tons next year.  The Australian Climate Exchange, noting that economic cycles are linked to emissions trajectories, has stated that global warming is slowing (Environmental Leader.com). 

I guess nobody told the WWF, which just last week issued a report that concluded that global warming is occurring faster than we thought, and that we better get a move on with the remedies.

Regardless of what we think about the impacts of economic challenges to our commitment to the environment, there is some evidence to suggest that our eco-intentions have at least taken a bit of a back seat for the time being.  The Wall Street Journal has reported that the fall in gas prices – something that makes most of us happy – has actually decreased investor interest in renewable energy stocks. New Energy Finance reports that renewable stocks fell 45 percent, as opposed to 23 percent for the Dow over the same period.  Maybe that’s a reality check for us eco-hearted folks – we’ve always known that in business, green projects are directly related to budgets.  That was recently confirmed at a tech conference where 70 percent of those polled said green IT and efficient technology were important, as long as such efforts also saved money (vnunet.com).

The good news is this – being green does often lead directly to cost cutting, for both business and consumers.  More and more larger companies and businesses are realizing this.  Hopefully, the cost savings the corporate world has realized through greening operations will come to mind as it restructures and re-budgets to address the financial chaos we’re experiencing.  Industry knows that energy costs will continue to haunt bottom lines until there is (and probably after there is) a national energy policy in the United States.  Wall Street will realize that again eventually, once fears subside.

Even better news – you can help by sticking to your eco-guns.  Reward companies that have made real progress with your money.  You’re probably spending less, which makes your dollar more powerful.  Give it to those who get it – companies like Patagonia, Nike, Burt’s Bees, Seventh Generation.  Shop at retailers who are trying to do the right thing – stores like Timberland, the Body Shop, Office Depot, and yes, even Wal-Mart, which should get high marks for forcing other companies to get with the program.

Keep on pre-cycling in the shopping isle, and push forward with demand for greener practices.  Our financial crisis may be a perfect opportunity to remind the corporate world about the principle of supply and demand.

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