Just how green is the frugal, simple-living locavore?

by Emrys Westacott

ImagesSages through the ages have advanced many arguments in favour of living simply and frugally. For instance:

  • it keeps you away from morally corrupting temptations;
  • it cultivates virtues like self-sufficiency and hardihood;
  • it makes one better able to cope with adversity;
  • it is the surest path to happiness since it curtails misguided desires and directs us toward enjoying simple pleasures
  • it helps us focus on what really matters in life, like love, friendship, and our relationship with nature.

One idea that has come to the fore in recent times is that living simply is better for the environment. The basic argument is pretty straightforward. Industrialization and population growth have massively increased the impact of human beings on the natural environment. Much of this impact is negative: smog; acid rain; polluted rivers, lakes and seas; contaminated groundwater; litter; garbage dumps; toxic waste; soil erosion; deforestation; extinction or threatened extinction of plant and animal species; habitat destruction; reduced biodiversity; and perhaps most significant of all in the long term, global warming. Consumerism, extravagance, and wastefulness increase the damage being done; living frugally and simply, by contrast, reduces one's ecological footprint.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. This is the familiar slogan shared by both frugal zealots and environmentalists. Books, articles and blogs abound advocating "ecofrugality" and advising us how to simultaneously save money and the environment by following practices such as walking or cycling instead of driving, drying clothes on the line, buying used items whenever feasible, and so on

Such measures, in addition to saving money, reduces the consumption of energy either directly, as when you turn off unnecessary lights, or indirectly by reducing demand for the production of new commodities. And as ecofrugalist Keith Heidorn says: "Reduction of waste in any form is a win for the environment. Reduction of material and energy use is a win for the planet and all life forms."[1]

Critics and skeptics, however, can point out that simplicity is not always green.

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