The Green Pauper

It wasn’t so many years ago that I got into a conversation with someone about food choices. They drove to a farmer’s market. I cycled to a supermarket. There wasn’t anywhere else I could reach by cycling to buy food. I couldn’t afford the bus, and I most certainly couldn’t afford the farmer’s market. I came out of that conversation with the sense the other person thought I wasn’t really trying hard enough.

There are a great many ways of being green that cost money. I’ve never been able to buy all organic food. I’ve had conversations with people who have assumed that I *must* have more income I could free up and thus am just making unethical choices, or am lazy. There are a great many ways of being green that take time – and I do a lot of those – walking for transport, hand-washing clothes, make do and mend. You’ve got to have time and energy for those, and not everyone does.

If you are a pauper, the odds are you are greener than the person who drives their car to the farmer’s market. You won’t rack up many air miles. The odds are you live in a smaller space, buy far fewer things, make everything last longer. You won’t be profligate with lighting and heating and you won’t waste food because you can’t afford to. People obliged to count how many slices of bread are left don’t have mystery items rotting in the back of the fridge. You don’t drive unless you have to, if you even have that option.

I’ve dealt with people who felt that every purchase and every action should be properly researched to find the greenest option. It assumed a luxury of time and energy, and not being in a position of also having to try and get the very best economic value for money you can out of a tight budget, or the cheapest thing you can find that will do the job, from no budget, or going into debt.

With all of this in mind, I have some suggestions. Firstly, it is easy to shame and harass a person for not being green enough while ignoring the realities of their situation. It is easy to tell someone else they have choices, and much harder to see those ‘choices’ when you really are short of essential resources – time, health, money. It’s easy to say ‘my organic vegetables are a good thing’ and ignore the big car you drive, or the big house you live in, or the foreign holidays. We are better off spending our time looking hard at our own choices and options rather than harassing other people over what we imagine their choices and options mean.

Rather than knock someone down, why not offer them help? Buy them the moon cup you want them to have, the washable nappies, the pedal bike. If you think spending money on objects is the green answer to problems, why stop at your own possessions? Unless of course spending money on green things is simply another way to demonstrate wealth. And I’m afraid there are people for whom that’s true.

Radical change, with everyone able to make the greenest choices imaginable, depends on more economic freedom than most of us have at the moment. We would need infrastructure changes – more affordable public transport, decentralisation so that you don’t have to drive to access essential things, and a more flexible work culture allowing people to work from home where appropriate. Less financial pressure would mean fewer people commuting. Not everything can be fixed by individual action, and the people who are most vulnerable and closest to the edge financially are the ones least able to go ostentatiously green. We need to work on helping each other, and not accept a culture in which green spending power becomes the new bling to show off.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

18 responses to “The Green Pauper

  • Moon Pryderi

    i couldn’t agree more – well said

  • bone&silver

    Really really good post. I think you should send it in to Discover, it’s so pertinent for right now.

    • Nimue Brown

      this is a thing I wot not of…

      • bone&silver

        If you write a post you’re proud of that you think will be useful to the WordPress community, you can submit it to Discover apparently on this site (I just read this yesterday but haven’t done it yet myself). You could research it. If you get shared on Discover you get seen by so many new readers…

  • Mary Walker

    This is something we discuss here often at least what choices we make. But only with respect to our own choices. We don’t make choices for others because no one really knows another’s circumstances. Unfortunately, the “religion” of Green has as many thoughtless preachers as Christianity does.

  • Claire Simons

    Excellent post Nimue and one that I can really relate to. Individual change is a wonderful start but many of us are constrained in what we can realisticually achieve by the social and economic environment we are currently forced to live in.

    You said “We are better off spending our time looking hard at our own choices and options rather than harassing other people over what we imagine their choices and options mean.” This is so very true. It’s so for so many people to judge others and feel morally superior. Its much harder to be an agent of meaningful change for people other than yourself as that requires real effort rather than a few ignorant words.

  • Tracy Kruse

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. We eat organic and went green about 5 years ago. And we consider ourselves amazingly blessed in that we have the economic earnings to do so! I used to work full time and we ate quick, easy mostly crappy meals, but I began to be really sick. In order to tackle being really green, mostly vegetarian and organic in order to improve our health, IT COST A BLOODY FORTUNE!!! Now I am home full time (about 30% less income), have a four season edible yard with fruit trees and veggies and it is all I can do to keep up with all the work. My husband makes noises about getting chickens for the eggs and I put my foot down. A girl has to have time to paint and read! But is it all perfect? Never. We live very remotely so I still have to order certain foods, seeds and supplements online, which means shipping them in which adds to our footprint for gas and transport for the truck to come to the house. In my humble opinion, what I see around me is that everyone is doing the best they can. It has always been so. But our world has been structured so that limitations always are driven by cash flow. It sucks. It really does and I pray for a day when everyone in the world can live in peace and abundance in whatever way works for them.

  • In The Autumn Of My Life

    Great post, Nimue!

    Yes! Green living isn’t a fad for the rich, it is a way of life. Recycle, compost, grow your own, use a blanket in the winter, buy frugally, give your time, buy locally if you can…not artisan just ya normal spudlings etc.

    I just had a tone like my mother…should have added *wags finger*

    It’s still true though 😉 hehe

  • Lunapo

    I am very guilty of non-green habits, but I try to make conscious choices. I do not take the time out to properly do things. I also don’t have many of the skills. I am learning some skills which are allowing me to have greener choices. The kiddos and I are slowly beginning a vegetable garden. We fix what we can, recycle everything, re-purpose and reuse as much as we can. With two very young Littles, who make a lot of trash, it can be difficult. Cloth diapers are the biggest mark for our green choices and it’s one I am over the Moon glad I made.

    Kudos to you for all of the choices you have made!

    • Nimue Brown

      Skills are a big part of this, thank you for raising that point. I’m lucky in that I had several older female relatives who crafted and it helped me get going, but not everyone does… Re-skilling is one of the issues the transition movement is promoting, I gather.

  • Sheila North

    I walk to work, & to do most shopping. We have a car that doesn’t get out much. We don’t have central heating, & I compost & recycle. On the other hand, if I had to hand wash our clothes, I’d go nuts. We have gone to the shortest cycle & much less soap powder than the soap powder manufacturers say you need. (You don’t.)

    As you say, choices, & look to your own lives, rather than others. Not racking up the air miles, but I’d do it, if I could afford it.

    • Nimue Brown

      Picking the things you can do, and doing those, and not worrying too much about other things is part of being sustainable – if we break ourselves, it is not a win.

  • garycohenblog

    Absolutely agree with this post. Been saying this for a while. It would seem ethical purchasing is exclusive. It maintains my nice middle class smugness about being green while it’s totally inaccessible to those on a lower income thus we are never really going to make a massive difference to the environment and ethical trade. How can it make a huge positive change to our world unless it’s available to the many instead of the few? If you are skint are you paying 60p for a carrot at the farm shop or buying a bag for the same price at the supermarket which can feed the whole family? It’s sad that those further down the ladder of economics don’t get to choose healthier and more environmentally friendly food products.
    And really why is it 60p for one carrot in my local farm shop?

  • davlukabb

    This is the problem with Green capitalism, vs. Green socialism.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    Goes for a great many things in life. Focus and do what you can do. Don’t waste time worrying about what you can’t do.

  • Baking with Leftovers – at Milliways with a pen

    […] This post by Nimue Brown goes more into the economics of affording (or not) all the organic, non-GMO foods on the market these days, or even just the wares at your local farmers market. Essentially, not everyone can afford it. Not even just the food itself, but the gas to go the extra miles to the nearest Whole Foods. Nimue also raises points about the relative greenness of driving to buy organic produce vs. biking to buy non-organic. […]

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