Ah, New Year’s Day. I love New Year’s Day because of the New Year’s resolution I made a few years ago: no more resolutions! It’s the only one I’ve ever kept.
Thinking Like a Consumer
You know, I think that a lot of people are approaching the whole “green” issue wrong. They’re thinking like consumers, and it ruins their chance to do anything meaningful. Being a consumer is like having an enormous flashing sign over your head that says, “SUCKER.” Worse, you see the “SUCKER” signs over the heads of the people around you, and peer pressure kicks in and makes you want to do what they do.
A lot of the people I know show some warning signs of thinking like a consumer:
- They imagine that they can achieve a “green” lifestyle through buying stuff.
- They think that joining organizations and pooling their ignorance with others counts as “doing something.”
- Their retirement fund and their kids’ college funds are empty and their credit cards are full.
Thinking Like a Producer
All of these things are good for the kind of person who makes his money by selling to suckers, but it doesn’t get the cows milked. If you want to make a difference to the environment, you should do it directly by taking care of a piece of land with your own hands. And turn a profit while you’re at it, because the environment needs to be more than a hobby for the well-to-do.
As far as I can make out, this is very easy. Carbon abatement is a trivial exercise, for example. You take a piece of cropland or pastureland and plant trees on it, and in short order (and with little maintenance) you have a stand of timber that has fixed an enormous amount of carbon in the wood and the soil. Cut the trees when they are mature and repeat. Starker Forest Products land adjoins mine on two sides, and the Starker family has been making its living this way since the Thirties, and has donated millions of dollars to Oregon State University as well. You can do a lot worse than this and not regret your investment, and it can bring your carbon footprint down to zero, and provide you with peaceful surroundings, not to mention firewood.
In thirty or forty years I’ll be able to tell you how it’s worked out for me, since I’m letting a big chunk of my farm revert to forest naturally.
Nuts and Bolts
Thinking like a producer is useful, even if you don’t act on it directly. The best course I ever took in college was Engineering Economics, which taught me the basics of cost-benefit analysis and the time value of money. This is ABC-level stuff, and should be a required course for all high school students, let alone college students, but it isn’t.
You learn how to think about your purchases as they travel along their life cycle from “pile of money” to “valuable new purchase” to “worthless piece of junk.” Or, in the case of production equipment, from “pile of money” to “valuable new purchase” to “big pile of money plus worthless piece of junk.” The big pile of money comes from the things you produced with the help of the piece of equipment.
The difference between a producer and a consumer is that the producer is aiming for the big pile of money, while the consumer writes it off. Since consumers have a batting average of .000, it’s not hard to do better than this.
Unfortunately, consumers, being new to the production game, tend to come up with justifications and rationalizations rather than actual plans, so it can take a while before you start hitting the ball. “Never bet the farm” is good advice, especially when you’re starting out.
Even if you don’t ever try your hand at the production side of the picture, just being aware of how quickly purchases lose their value can spell the difference between living in a gilded, credit-burdened cage and true affluence.
For example, new cars are for suckers. They lose most of their value in the first few years of ownership, but cars are so durable these days that people are practically giving them away when they still have most of their life still ahead of them.
(Which is not to say that you can’t buy a new car if that’s your passion, but make sure your retirement fund and the kids’ college fund are topped off. First things first.)
Only an idiot judges others by the kind of car they drive. Driving an old or unfashionable car thus works as an idiot detector. If you get a hard time about your old car (from people who really mean it and aren’t just ribbing you), then you’re surrounded by Pod People and need to find a path back to the real world.
(Living in a non-snooty neighborhood will, in itself, save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in the course of your working lifetime by removing the peer pressure to be as much of a sucker as your neighbors.)