bridges, vol. 32, December 2011 / OpEds & Commentaries
By Gernot Wagner
Patagonia, the outdoor clothing and apparel company, ran an eye-catching, full-page ad in The New York Times the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year. The headline, “Don’t Buy this Jacket,” was above a photo of one of its products and some text that reminded us of its environmental footprint: 135 liters of water, 20 pounds of carbon dioxide. “Think twice before you buy anything.” The ad went viral.
I like the message. But then I would. I’m proud to say that my wife and I didn’t spend a penny on Black Friday. When we do spend money, we try to buy organic, local products. I don’t drive, don’t eat meat, and yes, my wife owns a partially recycled polyester fleece jacket from Patagonia.
Come to think of it, we’re just the sort of people Patagonia is targeting with its anti-advertising ad. I’m fine with that, and with being one with those do-gooder consumers who drive Priuses, eat Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, shop at Whole Foods, and generally pay a premium for going green.
The problem is that buying green and recycling won’t stop global warming. We can’t spend, or conserve, our way out of the current ecological crises. Sadly, such behavior may even be counterproductive.
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Professor, Associate Dean, and Division Chair College of Computing Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta, Georgia ewz(at)cc.gatech.edu…