You can’t shop your way to a better world

CREDO Mobile, who markets themselves through progressive outlets, has no network of their own and uses Sprint.

CREDO claims that it doesn’t fund anti-environment politicians, or those who oppose a woman’s right to choose, or those who are pro-war. That may be true in a legalistic sense, but Sprint does. And if you’re using CREDO, you’re using Sprint.

Being a better, smarter, more environmentally aware consumer will not change the system because the problems are systemic and need systemic solutions. This is akin to saying that recycling at home is somehow making a political statement. It’s a good idea but let’s no fool ourselves, because it has no impact against the system at large.

One of our biggest problems is campaign contributions, which are little more than scarcely disguised bribes. Thus, a company saying that it will only donate to progressives is hardly a solution, especially since they are simply reselling services provided by a non-progressive company. The problem is not which politicians to give campaign contributions to, but rather a corrupt system that allows such contributions in the first place.


  1. A “better, smarter, more environmentally aware consumer” is still a consumer, which by definition is inconsistent with a sustainable economic system.

    I seem to recall the slogan “Tune in, turn on, drop out” from the sixties. Today perhaps it should be “Tune in, turn off, drop out” – as in learn, conserve, and refuse to participate in the system that is killing us.

  2. No matter how green, capitalism is unsustainable. I always feel that the go green mantra is somehow directed at the prols, while those with the money jet off to a snowboarding holiday on real snow in the desert in Dubai or cruise their luxury yachts across the globe, or perhaps take their private jets to meet up with each other in exotic locations. It is the system that stinks, changing your light bulb might save you some money, which you are expected to spend on some other form of consumption, but it wont save the world.

    • As Bob has often noted, socialism also has produced horrifying environmental impacts. The problem seems to be not with the system of economics, but with the system of measurement. If all we are concerned with is growth, then that’s what we produce– at any cost. Change the system of measurement and the desirable output changes. So perhaps the idea of “green capitalism” is not as far-fetched as it sounds.

      What would “green capitalism” look like? Capitalism in its simplest form, for example a family trading cheese to its neighbors for eggs, meat, vegetables, or services. Such a simple economy will never by itself produce chips for computers and cell phones (sorry, Bob), but the likelihood of the computer industry going green is pretty low anyway. Gallium arsenide and heavy metals will never be eco-friendly!

      Yet any system of economics that expects to produce computers will face the same challenges. The answer is not to eliminate the computer (and other eco-sensitive industries) but to minimize impact. One barrier to this is the corporation, which limits the liability for heinous offenses and reduces the incentive for companies to adopt green methods. The flip side is, in a litigation-happy environment, removing protection from liability effectively shuts business down. Our current system of torts often results in absurd results, like LimeWire being ordered to pay 13 times more damages for copyright infringement than BP was ordered to pay for destroying ecologies and livelihoods. Green capitalism would require a level of justice we do not currently enjoy. Another barrier is government (i.e. taxpayer) subsidized, artificially cheap fossil fuels, making possible the abhorrent practice of shipping valueless goods across oceans and continents to encourage needless consumption and displace locally-made goods. When was the last time you bought American-made shoes or televisions?

      Such a system in itself would not guarantee sustainable practices, but it would go a long way toward encouraging them.

      Capitalism at its simplest form *does* exist. When I take my cheese to the farmer’s market and return with jam, shallots, tamales, and a cupcake for my wife (as I did last Saturday), all made by folks who do their best to practice sustainable lifestyles, that’s about as green as an economic system can get.

      To elaborate, we use solar-assisted hot water for making our cheese, and are in the process of switching from fossil fuels to wood as our additional heat source for pasteurization. We’ve explored manure-to-methane but found that there are few reliable resources for designing small systems. About 95% of our cheese sales come from local retail, at farmers markets and community events and a handfiul of local stores – our cheese typically travels about 1/30th of the distance of the average American food product. And it looks like these business practices are viable: last year we came very close to breaking even; this year we expect to turn a profit (meaning cheese will begin to help support our household). Though of course taking advantage of the absurdity of U.S. tax laws, which are designed for larger businesses to minimize their tax obligations, permitted us to show a substantial loss last year, and we are likely to show minimal income for the foreseeable future without running afoul of the tax code.

      Such simple trading relies not on systemic supports – the system treats it with disfavor – but on the commitment, ethics, and often spiritual or religious values of its participants. Imagine what could happen if our economic system favored small businesses instead of megacorporations!

  3. I have an account with CREDO and have been with them for more than 2 years now. I just figure its the best I can do because I have to use a cell phone. If I go off the grid I will be blacklisted (or nonlisted…lol) by all my friends and family. They will think I am trying to prove something rather than actually affecting real meaningful change. So, is this the right answer? What about a beeper? Whats the carbon footprint difference? Unless I go to a very rural area and just work on a farm for the rest of my life I am pretty attached to my electronic devices and that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon as I am 26 and stuck in the digital era. any suggestions or people’s experiences on how they have tried to make their own bit of difference would be awesome. I also have been considering purchasing a solar charger for my phone…it would cost $100 which is a lot of money for product I already have basically. Thanks for writing about this, it helps to know others are thinking about these things.

    One last note: the political action list serve does make a difference in my opinion. The volume of letters e-mails and calls that go out helps to show elected officials how important an issue is to their constituency and if they want to stay in office they have to response somehow. This might not make them do exactly what we want but it does force them to at least acknowledge another angle on an issue. It might be a drop in the bucket but it still counts…scientifically speaking it equals one drop and it has a value.


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