Starting a blog about sustainable living has taught me a lot of things. I’ve learned about writing and web design and photography. I’ve also learned things about networking and search engine optimization and social media marketing. But one thing that really surprised me to learn as I’ve navigated through this weird online space is that my eco blog is actually ruining the environment. And if you’re a blogger, yours probably is too.
When I started Curated Cassi a few months ago, I was all bright eyed and bushy tailed with lofty ideas about how little old me would make a difference in the world by sharing my words and my wit. Fresh off of bringing another little human into the world, I had been thinking a lot about the environment and what our choices today will mean for my kids in 50 years. I spent some time perusing eco blogs that were making a difference by unapologetically informing the public of things they needed to hear.
I studied and admired the work of some of the writers who initiated the eco blog scene, like Alden from EcoCult and Jennifer from Eco Warrior Princess. If they could inspire the masses to make better choices, why couldn’t I? That is the beauty of blogging – anyone with a computer, an Internet connection and an idea can give it a shot.
So I started Curated Cassi with the thought that I would make a difference by sharing my journey as I make small changes to my lifestyle and work towards living a more sustainable life. I published tips about supporting the sustainable fashion industry, fighting consumerism, and doing good for the environment. And while doing so, I started to notice hypocrisy in my goals for the blog vs. my goals for the environment. I was taking actions that were purportedly for the good of the environment, but in reality, were causing it harm. Let’s call them eco-conundrums for the digital age.
Eco-conundrum #1: Bloggers and Influencers Push Consumerism
Unchecked consumerism is arguably one of the most damaging things to the environment. Most eco-conscious influencers will tell you the same and encourage you to buy secondhand instead of new. Or not to buy at all, because a minimalist lifestyle is the ticket to happiness and environmental bliss. But those influencers will also promote beautiful products that are sustainably and ethically handmade by women in Vietnam who are escaping a life of sex slavery. And while these items are sustainably made, they’re still being made – they are using natural resources and fossil fuels and creating pollution during their eight-thousand-mile journey to your front door. Their packaging, while minimal and compostable or recyclable, is still waste created for your benefit.
The justification for promoting consumption in the name of environmentalism is a simple one. We, as bloggers, are simply enlightening our dear readers to better options that exist in this capitalistic cesspool that members of the developed world wallow though every day.
Consumers will consume no matter what, so if we can encourage a lesser evil, are we doing our due diligence to the environment?
Eco-conundrum #2: Bloggers Waste Electricity
Since I started this blog, I’ve been noticing that I am plugging in my computer and phone much more often than I normally do. I’m spending hours every week researching, writing content and reading other blogs. I’m also checking in on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts multiple times per day. Any good environmentalist will tell you that one of the first things you should do to help the environment is reduce the amount of energy your household consumes. Just turn out the lights when you leave a room. Simple! So how can I rationalize this slippery descent into energy consumption and waste on account of my eco blog?
You might say that as one person who is otherwise pretty attuned to conservation, maybe my blog-related energy use isn’t a significant problem. But if you’ll allow me to nerd out and cite the universalizability framework of ethics – aka: what if everyone did that? – the argument falls apart. And if you’re not much for ethical philosophizing, consider this: there are hundreds of millions of blogs in existence today. Imagine the net energy consumption involved in creating that digital collection. And after the blog content is created, it’s uploaded to webhosting servers and backup servers that are consuming energy day after day. In the U.S., power consumed by data centers is estimated to account for 2% of total energy consumption, a number that may increase as the amount of content on the Internet continues to grow and people spend more time consuming it.
Another rationalization for justifying eco blogging’s drain on the electrical grid is to argue the greater good. If you are advocating for the environment on your blog and influencing readers to act in more environmentally friendly ways, perhaps this good outweighs the bad of the energy consumption directly related to your blog. This argument certainly holds true if you are an established blogger with a huge reach. But if you’re a startup blogger like myself with a limited audience, the scale is still weighted toward the negative impact of your blog.
Does that mean new voices shouldn’t join the conversation and only the veterans have earned their place in the eco blogosphere?
Eco-conundrum #3: A Blogger’s Success is Intertwined with Your Energy Consumption
Let’s be clear, the main goal of a blogger is to entice readers to spend more time on their electronic devices. There is nothing a blogger would love more than if you spent the next five hours sitting in front of your computer surfing around their archives, increasing their page views and sharing their articles with your friends. There are entire websites, e-courses, e-books, Facebook groups and even in-person conferences dedicated to teaching bloggers how to increase their readership. After all, what is the benefit of broadcasting your eco message if no one bothers to read it?
In fact, bloggers notoriously lament the dreaded summer slump – the months between May and September during which readers are outside enjoying nature instead of burning resources reading about how to save it. There is a bit of absurdity to the fact that even the most eco-conscious of eco bloggers would be conflicted if you decided forego reading their article about the benefits of planting a tree to go outside and actually plant one.
Here is the dilemma. If a blogger is truly an environmentalist, they can’t argue that they don’t care if no one reads their eco blog, because there would be no justification for the environmental cost of running one. And it would be hypocritical for that same blogger to argue that they are simply using the blogging platform to maximize the reach of their message because the digital revolution is inherently not environmentally sustainable.
Can a true environmentalist use the blogging platform in good conscience?
At its best, running an eco blog is a noble effort to make a difference with the unpleasant side effect of increased energy consumption. At its worst, eco blogging is one more nail in our collective coffin as we continue our march toward technological lobotimization and environmental disaster.
Does this mean I am going to stop blogging? No, at least not yet. I enjoy the creative expression this blog allows me, and I think I can add value to the conversation about sustainability. But as time goes on, I’m having a increasingly difficult time accepting the “do as I say, not as I do” mentality that seems to be necessary to adopt as an eco blogger.
Unfortunately, I don’t have great answers to most of the questions I brought up in this essay. But I’m hoping to start a much-needed conversation with the community to try and unpack some of these eco-conundrums.
I’d love to hear what you think. Can you be an eco blogger without being a hypocrite? Is the benefit of spreading the word worth any environmental ills that might arise from an eco blog? Am I off-base in my critiques?
Comment below or join me while I continue the conversation over on the Curated Cassi Facebook page.
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