Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Light at the End of the Tunnel May or May Not Be a Train

We're nearing the end of another dismal week on Wall Street.  Our investments are bloodied and bruised.  Our home's value isn't falling, but we couldn't sell it if we tried.  And the prospect of starting a job search shortly after Fiona's impending arrival fills me with anxiety.  Are there any jobs left?

But what's most interesting to me about today's news is that the markets were driven lower in large part due to retailers' reports that more families curtailed spending on non-essentials.  In other words, Wal-Mart did okay; all those upscale chain stores at the mall, not so much.

I suspect that many of us who have gone green rarely darken the door of the local MegaMall.  It's just not a place that has much that we want or need.  My local Target anchors a decidedly modest shopping mall, but unless I'm cutting through to my doctor's office on the other side, I just about never go.  And when I did venture into the mall by my mother's house, lured by a coupon, I bought Freddie two things I find tricky to find secondhand - new sneakers and a pair of jeans, all for less than $40.

Apparently, my behavior is bad for America's bottom line.

But the simple truth is that I am so much happier now that our weekends don't revolve around going to stores and acquiring things - a staple of the early days of our marriage and into our first days as parents, complete with lunch out at FatBurger.

We may be shopping less, but I'm confident that we have more.  More time, more space, more sanity, more money in the bank and most importantly, more choices because we've defined what's important to us - and a new sofa every three years does not make the list.  More years on our life because we're active and eating better and living with fewer chemicals, too.

But if going green puts the economy in the red, then do I really want every family in America do behave as conservatively as the Greenes?

Let me review our retirement portfolio for a minute.

If we go back to a robust economy, where everyone has plenty of discretionary cash, what's the environmental impact?  Then again, if we languish in a recession for too long, the Greenes will be living quite close to nature indeed as Franklin's job could be in jeopardy.

I want to see the good in high gas prices, more families choosing to shop second-hand or not shop at all and all the other choices that are getting so much press lately.  But I fear that this bust is just the precursor to a boom - a boom that will herald a return to the bad old days, plump up our IRAs and do a little more damage to Mother Earth.

Is a robust economy incompatible with eco-sensitive lifestyles?  Say it isn't so.

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