The Miser's Guide to a Better Planet

By Darryl McMahon

Environmentalism Has Become a Dirty Word (February 1999)

Pssst! Want to save a few bucks? (OK) Want to save the environment? (Yawn) We're all tired of finding month left at the end of the money, and hearing about how the environment is getting worse despite government programs and higher taxes. And those "environmentalists"! Always looking for big government handouts or at the door looking for donations for projects that will kill jobs. And the guilt tactics, how you're destroying the environment when you're just trying to get by.

I don't want your money. Any of it. I want you to keep it. I want to show you ways to keep more of it. I want you to spend it any way you see fit. It may not be a lot of money, but every bit helps, right?

It is not only possible to do things that will save you money and be beneficial for the environment, it should be normal. Consider the 3 R's: Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. The order is important. Reduce comes first. Most of the time, if we reduce our consumption of something, we will save money. Most of the time, if we re-use something, we will save money. Most of the time, if we recycle something in a rational manner, we will save money.

I do not consider myself an environmentalist. This is a term that has been debased by overuse and misuse. Ford Motor Company considers itself an environmentally responsible company because it produces a few electric pick up trucks, while selling thousands of V-8, 4-ton, Ford Expeditions, with the new 5-ton, 12-mpg monster Excursion with its V-10 engine waiting in the wings. If that is environmentally responsible, I want no part of it.

If I am not an "environmentalist", what are my credentials for writing this column? I am a father; I want a planet with breathable air, drinkable water and non-toxic soil to grow food for my children and their children. I am a self-employed worker and taxpayer, so I care about how my money is spent, both when I am spending it directly, and also when government is spending it for me. One of the things I do for a living is tell companies how to save money by making their operations more efficient, reducing the amount of power they consume, materials they buy and the amount of waste they have removed. There is a common misconception that cleaning up the air and water has to be an expensive exercise. I don't believe this. As an example, CP Hotels has made waste recovery and diversion a successful profit centre within the company. You can do the same in your personal activities. I am someone who thinks individuals can make a difference, and have tried a lot of things that some would consider unusual or radical. Some of them worked, some did not. So I have some relevant experience to pass along. The planet has a remarkable ability to recover from our stupidity, all we have to do is stop exceeding its ability to absorb the damage. If we stop the flagrant stupidities and make a few small changes, we will make a big difference. I do not believe that we have to reduce our standard of living to make beneficial changes. I am not a paragon of environmental virtue, and I am still learning things and making changes.

Environmentalists cannot save the environment. They are not the ones doing the damage. We are. Government cannot save the environment, they can only spend tax money. We are the taxpayers. If we want things to change, we have to make the changes. They don't have to be dramatic changes or sacrifices, and we don't have to do them all at once. We did not arrive here overnight, we still have time to make necessary changes. Mostly, it is a matter of thinking through the consequences of our actions.

In future columns I will make suggestions as to what you can do to save money and planetary resources. Many of you will already be doing many of these things. That's great! Others may not, so please bear with me as I try to start at a basic level and work up from there. Some of you will think that some of the things I have to say here are obvious. Perhaps, but I wouldn't mention them unless I have seen someone doing the contrary. If you have suggestions as to how to reduce waste and pollution, and save money doing it, I welcome them. Please send them along care of this paper.