Can consumers save the planet if they switch to “green” products? The German author and journalist Kathrin Hartmann (author of our Debating Europe Book Club book of the month for July) believes the answer is a resounding “No”. In her book and documentary, The Green Lie, Hartmann argues that it’s not possible to make good purchasing decisions if the broader political and economic system is working in the opposite direction. Buying green products makes us all feel better, but it also deludes us; individual consumers cannot make a meaningful difference without political change.

In Hartmann’s opinion, it’s not just corporate greenwashing that is responsible for the environmental mess we’re in, but also governments, environmentalists, and consumers who allow themselves to be duped. Is she right? And, if so, what can we do about it?

Debating Europe is excited to announce that we will be interviewing Kathrin Hartmann about her book as part of our book club – a chance to put your questions and comments to authors from across the globe!

Each month, we will pick a different book and interview its author, and put questions and comments to them from our readers on the topic of the book. Our book of the month for July will be Kathrin Hartmann’s The Green Lie.

Hartmann describes in her book cleared forests and polluted beaches, which, according to lobbyists from international companies such as BP and Unilever, do not exist. But she also takes on governments, environmental agencies, and EU-funded projects, which, she argues, often turn out to do more harm than good – both for the environment and for producers in developing countries. According to Hartmann, there are no “green” cars and no “sustainable” palm oil.

These days, shoppers are confronted with a bewildering array of logos on the products they buy: fair trade, organic, bio, sustainably sourced, etc. The rational behind this system of logos and certification is to convince us as customers to make better purchasing decisions in terms of social and environmental standards. However, Hartmann argues that this is a “green lie”; everyone is keeping an eye on their consumption patterns and neglecting to demand real change in the things that actually matter; corporate decisions and government policies.

The notion that individuals can save the environment through decisions they make at the supermarket is wrong. In fact, according to Kathrin Hartmann, it’s actively harmful because it’s giving us a false sense of comfort and reducing public pressure on politicians to take real actions. However, this conclusion leaves the reader feeling a bit helpless. Can we, as consumers, really do nothing at all? Because, in that case, the danger is a sense of hopelessness, as consumers feel they have no responsibility and should leave it all to the politicians and big companies to sort out. How can “sustainable living” be translated into effective activism and campaigning?

Is trying to live sustainably just a “green lie”? What can we do if we care about the environment and the rights of producers in developing countries? Now is your chance to put your comments and questions to Kathrin Hartmann about her book – so let us know in the comments below what you would like to ask her!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Wikipedia – Cunningchrisw

9 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    It’s worse than a lie, its a political con trick.

  2. avatar

    I agree with the author: there are no “green” cars and no “sustainable” palm oil

  3. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive

    Kathrin Hartmann’s answer of a resounding “No” is probably true. Humans are on top of the ecological food web! Herbivores, carnivores, omnivores or decomposers are no competition. Only politicians are!

    The type of consumer that comes to my mind is the one who directs all & consumes all & doesn’t even know!

    Can the EU concept survive the wittiness of a thinker born over 200 years ago? His name: Frédéric Bastiat. Not a “celebrated” Karl Marx though!

    “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.” Frédéric Bastiat

    Any similarity? Seems “FB” had some foreboding of the coming of the “Regulatory Superpower called EU” some 150 years later!

    The EU should restrain & console itself to its former economic common market plea, a book or debating club and return all stolen sovereignty back to their rightful owners!

    • avatar

      For all the “reform” in your name you sound like Nigel Fart Rage. 99% you are from WESTERN Europe.
      1% you are from Russia.

    • avatar
      EU Reform- Proactive

      Dear Adrian Limbidis,

      a pity, your responses remain off the point, abusive & a reflection of your (by former totalitarian regimes damaged) character! Wish you a speedy recovery.

  4. avatar

    I agre with the author too, brut forca different reason. Pollution and resources exhaustion is a matter of quantity, not quality. The most sustainable process or product becomes unsustainable if it has to be provided to 7 billion people.

  5. avatar

    Surely the whole point of our advanced society flies directly in the face of green living?
    Hunter gathering is the only way we can live in harmony with our ecosystem. Anytime you burn or cut down plant life to make way for new settlements, factories or farmland you’re destroying habitat, wildlife and plant life.

  6. avatar

    Provocative question. When we say “Buying green products makes us all feel better, but it also deludes us; individual consumers cannot make a meaningful difference without political change.”, we ignore that political change comes with larger numbers of people making “meaningful difference”.

    • avatar
      James McManama

      But that seems to be the point. If large numbers of people do something useless (like choosing to buy products falsely labelled “sustainable”) then it doesn’t make a meaningful difference. If anything, it may even be a net negative. If, however, legal restrictions are tightened (which cannot be done via consumer choice) then it can have a real impact.

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