How the rise of trendy environmentalism is harming the planet

“Greenis a trend and people go with trends. … I don’t think people know the realfacts.”

These words of a greenconsumer reported in The New York Times last year echo what we see everywhere:environmentalism has become trendy, and green fashion is all the rage.

Fromplaques on the sides of “green” buildings, to bright green reusablegrocery bags and hybrid cars, the evidence is everywhere. People like to publiclyproclaim their concern for the planet, politicians prominently highlight theirlatest green proposals and business owners promote environmentally friendlyproducts – while each seeks to reap social and financial rewards in theprocess.

 Lostin the rise of these eco-fads is an honest assessment of whether these actionsare actually helping the planet, or just making us feel better about ourselves.

·       Witness Washington state’s requirement that new schoolsmeet “green” standards. The Legislature’s auditing agency this yearfound most “green” schools use more energy than non-green schools.

·       Consider King County Metro’s program to buy soy-basedbiofuel for their buses. The agency dropped the program after managers foundthe fuel may actually increase air pollution.

·       Take politicians in Seattle and Olympia proclaiming acommitment to reduce carbon emissions, even as they admit those emissions areincreasing faster than the national average.

Perhaps most surprising isthat buying locally to reduce “food miles” often doesn’t help theenvironment. Consider this simple example. It is less efficient to ship Yakimahay to cows in King County so Seattleites can buy “local” milk thanto leave the hay in Yakima with the cows and ship the milk. Calculating foodmiles in this instance misleads about the real environmental impact. Why isthere such a consistent disconnect between environmental promises and realenvironmental results?

The reason these approachesfail is simple. Too many of today’s environmental policies are designedprimarily to create a green image – not to deliver environmental results. Anumber of recent studies show how powerful the emotional benefits of lookinggreen really are.

A study involving Seattle andBoulder, Colo., found people were willing to pay thousands of dollars more fora Prius than other hybrids due to its distinctive “green” appearanceand style. Another study by J.D. Power and Associates found the No. 1 reasonpeople said they buy hybrids is “what it says about me.”

We should not begrudge anyonefor benefiting from decisions that truly help the environment. The problemarises when emotionally satisfying decisions do not actually help theenvironment. Do we admit our mistakes, losing the good feeling we gained byappearing green, or do we reject the data and jealously guard our carefullybuilt green self-image?

As anyone who has hiked,fished, sailed or cares about wildlife can attest, real concern for theenvironment is not a fad. So why treat environmental policies like an impulsebuy at the supermarket – indulging a desire to publicly demonstrate our greencredentials?

Too often the choice made bypoliticians and green consumers is to reject science and stick with failed, buttrendy, environmental fads. The very trendiness that increased awareness aboutenvironmental problems is now one of the chief obstacles to makingscience-based, rational assessments of environmental policy.

This need not be the case. Wemust recognize that chasing a trendy green image undermines our ability to makesound environmental decisions.

If we obstinately refuse tochange failed policies, however, we harm the environment. At a time of tightbudgets, continuing to pour scarce resources into failed policies squandersopportunities to improve water quality, protect wildlife habitat and improveenergy efficiency.

Politicians,businesses and activists see eco-fads as an opportunity to reap the rewards ofcultivating a green image. Unfortunately, eco-fads are now the biggest obstacleto making real environmental progress.

Todd Myers is environmental director at theWashington Policy Center and author of “Eco-Fads: How the rise of trendyenvironmentalism is harming the environment.” Learn more at and