Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American

Celebrate Earth Day: Buy! Buy! Buy!


A casual spin last night through the pile of ads inserted inside my local Sunday newspaper made it clear to me that the best possible thing we all can do this week to honor Earth is to shop till we drop.

The first screaming banner I saw was this: "Chop Your Food Bill and Protect the Earth!" Right below it was a big juicy picture of Certified Angus Beef Chuck Steak and another of Country Style Spare Ribs. That's right, meat, which taxes the planet with the heaviest carbon and water footprints of any food.

Charmed, I proceeded on an archeological dig through the one-inch-thick pile of coated paper (read: dead trees). My findings:

"Sale! Prices Slashed!" Pictured: A 24-pack of 16-ounce bottles of water (you know, the kind clogging up the Pacific Ocean), shrink-wrapped in more plastic. But hey, the bottle labels are green with white lettering.

"Future Friendly! Buy One Get One Free!" Listed: Diapers, lead-acid batteries, paper towels and laundry detergent. Yep, perfect for the environment.

"Your Source for Saving Green." Good ol' acrylic latex paint.

"Ultimate Backyard Makeover! Get a Great Lawn and Win a New Backyard to Go with It." Just sign up for multiple lawn treatments. I ain't kiddin', folks.

"Buy One Get One Free!" Because the more products you buy, the better off Earth is. The more energy consumed and pollution created manufacturing those products, the more greenhouse gasses emitted shipping those products, the more garbage generated from tossing the packaging of those products.

Then I discovered my favorite of all, from the Price Chopper grocery store. "Green is Smart! Drink Up and Win." Purchase any two 7 Up brand items and be entered for a chance to win a 2010 Smart Fortwo passion coup, one of the little "smart cars." Of course, the first item displayed is a 6-pack of 16-ounce soda bottles. Below that are displays of a few of the great earthy products that are on sale, notably White Wave soy milk and Cascadian Farms granola cereals. Because, you see, this is how far the American public has come: after 40 years of Earth Day, we still think that being good to "nature" (that place way over there, where you can't drive) is achieved by eating soy and granola. Like "those women" who wear flowered sundresses, walk barefoot in the woods, pick mushrooms and breastfeed their babies in public (don't look; wait, look). Like those men who wear plaid shirts and sandals, grow asparagus, chew on pine bark and quote Euell Gibbons.

Take cheer, good friends. It's Earth Week. As one ad yelled in big green letters: "Together, We Can Do Our Part to Make Every Day Earth Day!"

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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