Last year, I wrote about the frustration I felt living with “Mr. Right,” who did not share my attitude toward waste (“Taming a Wasteful Spouse”). From thermostat settings to water use, the differences seemed irreconcilable. My post drew comments from many readers who reported similar experiences with family members and roommates and shared their own coping strategies.
This month, my mysterious “Mr. Right” has come forward to respond to the original post.
So What’s Wrong With My Wife’s Personal Crusade?
“First off, people who ‘Hate to Waste’ are not doing anything substantive for the environment. Their well-meaning, somewhat abstemious behaviors may actually cause a backlash and make it harder to reach out to the less committed.
My view is that working to effect change in policy is the only way that actual conservation will occur and global climate change can be slowed or reversed. Taking small steps like saving a few kilowatts at home will do little or nothing. But a real policy that could bring real change in energy use and global warming should be within our grasp.
Fredrica’s attempt to slightly shrink our carbon footprint by keeping our house too cool in the winter and too hot in the summer, turning off lights in empty rooms, not wasting paper, reducing, repairing and recycling rather than throwing things away, etc. is a doomed approach and may be counter-productive…
Waste Watchers Fail to Look at the Larger Picture
…What should be a campaign to change policies, give incentives for all to save energy and back those policies up with sanctions where necessary, has been turned into a moral imperative with no discernible effect, except in our household, my sweet wife can bask in a glow of moral superiority. It is a classic example of displacement of goals. Presumably, the goal is to help the environment, but instead of focusing on concrete steps that actually might successfully confront those issues, a lot of well-meaning people are following a series of rituals and small steps to “cut waste.” In short, noble intentions are transposed into a series of personal actions.
There is nothing wrong with trying to conserve, but such individual actions alone will never change our wasteful energy policy. Hectoring others engenders backlash and only politics and policies can save the environment.”
Here is My Response to “Mr. Right”:
“I agree that public policy to address environmental problems is imperative. But I would argue that we need both sound top-down environmental policy and individual actions at the grassroots level to reduce our carbon footprints. It’s similar to having a good public health system and adopting healthy personal habits. Why not do both?
And those behavioral changes that others in the WeHateToWaste community and I try to make are not just symbolic, or evidence of goal displacement, but are rooted in a worldview that favors sustainability over waste…
Small Steps Make Good Sense and DO Add Up
…To me, turning off the light when you leave a room is not a demonstration of “moral superiority,” but an application of sheer common sense and a bit of good old-fashioned frugality. Aside from the logic (why light an unoccupied room?) and economic benefit (why not save the money?), small actions like that can multiply and add up to lower demand for electric power, less reliance on fossil fuels like coal that are burned to run our appliances, and ultimately, fewer new power plants (including nuclear ones with their unique risks). Furthermore, bottom-up demand for more sustainable goods and services can help spur technological innovation and design improvements…
I am NOT a “Morally Superior” Waste Hater!
…The cost/benefit calculation seems clear to me—it’s a no-brainer. Why would anyone object to reducing waste? And I don’t engage in or expect heroic measures or sacrifices, just simple actions that are hopefully also easy and fun, if not yet popular. I don’t consider myself morally superior for doing so. But I do derive intrinsic satisfaction and peace of mind from trying to do right by the planet and the people I share it with. And I also believe in the power of one (or two)…and the cumulative impact of many.”
Can My Marriage be Saved?
Which position — mine or “Mr. Right’s” — is closer to your own? Tell us below how you have dealt with a difference in approaches to addressing wastefulness with your spouse, other household members, friends or co-workers.
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