Can environmentalism be positive?

Environmentalism always seems so negative. It says that your actions harm others, and therefore the ethical thing is to do fewer of those actions. So to be a good person you have to eat less meat, take fewer vacations, drive slower cars, and otherwise do less fun stuff. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s all true and you really should do be doing less of those things, but still I think we can admit it’s a downer to be on guard for whether flying home to see your mom and sister is crossing the line into planet-heating evil.

Can we positively spin the environmental message? Like, today if you google how to reduce your carbon emissions it’s all lists of carbon-intensive stuff to do less of, like eating meat and taking vacations. Presumably the idea is that if you buy less high-carbon stuff, your reallocated spending will go to more low-carbon stuff.

So what if rather than shaming the fun high-carbon stuff we instead promoted the fun low-carbon stuff? Like, if you spend more on low-carbon stuff then you’ll automatically spend less on the higher-carbon stuff even if it’s not conscious.

In that spirit, here are some ideas to reduce your carbon emissions today:

If you take seriously the idea you should cut back on your marginal high-carbon stuff, then you should also take seriously the idea that you should push yourself to buy more low-carbon stuff.

To be clear, I don’t want you to stop all your high-carbon consumption - please still fly home to see your family. But ideally, to the extent you can, you should pretend that prices for high-carbon stuff like steak and gasoline are really a bit higher than they actually are. So if you’re really craving a steak, by all means buy it, but if you’re on the fence between the steak and the salmon, then in that case round down and order the salmon.

Inversely, if you’re on the fence about whether to buy a low-carbon thing, you should round up and buy it! For example, if you’re on the fence between a $5 boring salad and a $10 fancy salad, I encourage you to round up and order the fancy salad.

Summarizing: If it’s low-carbon and you’re feeling the urge, splurge. If it’s high-carbon, purge the urge and pull back from the verge.

Let’s make saving the planet positive!