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!