Debating Conservation

I pride myself in supporting conservation. I consider the planet already overpopulated, so I am very careful with not being wasteful.

To that end:

  • I minimize my energy usage and carbon footprint. I use energy efficient appliances, insulate my home, use CFBs, manage my thermostat, carpool and telecommute when it makes sense to do so, live close to my workplace, drive a compact car with good mileage, and minimize unnecessary car trips and air travel. As a result, my energy costs are extremely low.

  • I try to waste zero food. My neighbors may throw out a lot of edible foodstuffs, but not I. I carefully plan grocery shopping trips with a mind towards how much perishable items can be consumed. Although I buy a lot of fresh produce, it never goes bad before it is eaten. As a result, my food costs are extremely low.

  • I try to reuse items. Plastic grocery bags are reused as garbage bin liners. The containers for the juice I buy are reused many times as water containers. I mostly try to use rechargeable batteries. (I don’t think those round button-type batteries are available as rechargeables)

However, I’ve been giving this some thought. Here are some arguments against conservation:

  • Unless everyone else does it, my savings are easily trumped by everyone else. If I waste very little food, my entire year’s food waste is doubled in a single day by my neighbor’s tossing of a half-eaten chicken. If I don’t use up a bunch of gasoline, someone else’s SUV does the job for me. It doesn’t matter that I live 5 minutes from work if lots of folks commute 2 hours every day. In a big honking gas guzzler. Alone, with no passengers.

  • I don’t really need to save the money. I can afford to buy a bunch of food I don’t get around to eating. I can definitely afford to waste a bunch more gasoline.

  • I don’t have children, so if the world isn’t completely used up by the time I die, it’s no skin off my nose. I couldn’t care less if we pollute the air to the point that we have the atmosphere of Venus… as long as that happens after I’m already in the ground.

So, remind me again… why should I conserve?

You should conserve because it’s the norally right thing to do.

So what? If somebody else is wasteful, that has no effect on whether you’re wasteful, or on whether your actions produce results. This line of reasoning is like saying, “If I don’t rob the convenience store, the store’s savings are easily trumped by some other guy who robs a bank. So I might as well rob the store.”

Morality has nothing to do with relative savings of money. Returning to the previous example, robbing the store doesn’t become more right or wrong if the amount of money that the robber has in the bank changes.

If you don’t believe that morality it exists (or if you believe in it but define it in a trivial way) then you’ve already rejected any answers to this question. In that case, why bother starting the thread?

(Incidentally, here’s an article that addresses your thrid point from a different angle.)

You’re saving money by conserving, which gives you a better lifestyle. That’s as good a reason as any, I guess.

Don’t bother at the indidividual level, then, but support large-scale projects that could make a difference, like expanded use of solar, wind and nuclear power, tougher emission standards for vehicles, etc.