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People who try to be environmentally-friendly by buying less stuff are happier, study claims
Unsurprisingly, the results showed that the more materialistic a person was, the less likely they were to engage in reduced consumption.
With an ever-increasing focus on environmental sustainability, more and more of us are changing how — and what — we consume.
We're encouraged to recycle; charges on plastic mean we take our own shopping bags to the supermarket; and market research suggests that campaigns against fast fashion have been partly responsible for a rising interest in second-hand clothing. But how do these kinds of behaviours relate to our well-being? New research in Young Consumers suggests that buying green may not be the way to personal bliss, and that instead we should be focused on curbing our materialistic urges altogether.
To understand how our consumer choices affect our well-being, Sabrina Helm at the University of Arizona and her team looked at the "culturally entrenched materialistic values" that influence millennials. The researchers were interested in two specific kinds of behaviour: "green buying", which refers to buying products that limit impact on the environment, and reduced consumption, which involves repairing or reusing things rather than buying replacements.
The team started with data from a longitudinal research program in which almost 1,000 college students completed online surveys, initially during their first year, aged 18 to 21, and subsequently three and five years later. The students completed scales measuring their level of materialism, and how often they engaged in proactive financial behaviours such as saving. The team also constructed a 7-item scale to measure proactive environmental behaviours, including both green buying — such as purchasing items made from recycled materials — and reduced consumption behaviours. Personal well-being, life satisfaction, financial satisfaction and psychological distress were also measured.
Unsurprisingly, the results showed that the more materialistic a person was, the less likely they were to engage in reduced consumption. But they were still likely to engage in green buying — perhaps because it still involved obtaining new items.
"There is evidence that there are 'green materialists,'" says Helm. "If you are able to buy environmentally friendly products, you can still live your materialist values. You're acquiring new things, and that fits into the mainstream consumption pattern in our consumer culture."
These materialists should think twice, however: those with lower levels of consumption also reported higher personal well-being and lower psychological distress, but green buying had no link to well-being at all.
"We thought it might satisfy people that they participated in being more environmentally conscious through green buying patterns, but it doesn't seem to be that way," Helm said. "Reduced consumption has effects on increased well-being and decreased psychological distress, but we don't see that with green consumption."
It's important to note that the data gleaned from the research was not causal, but merely correlational. People with higher levels of materialism may be less happy for other reasons, or happy people may be more likely to engage in reduced consumption, not the other way around. And it's also possible that those with high levels of materialism are unlikely to be made any happier by reducing their consumption — after all, the factors influencing that materialism are complex and often deeply embedded in the social and cultural fabric of our lives, and undoing these desires may be slightly less straightforward than we might hope.
Changes in consumer habits are obviously not going to be the tipping point when it comes to climate change — as we probably all know by now, 71% of global emissions are caused by just 100 companies. So whilst Helm notes that reduced consumption is "more important from a sustainability perspective," how much single use plastic we purchase on a daily basis is unlikely to make a significant impact.
But how we feel about these issues will undoubtedly develop as the clock ticks on climate change: understanding how to navigate our role in environmental issues is only going to get more pressing.
- Like buying stuff? Materialistic people are more insecure - Big Think ›
- Millennials buy the things their parents did — but they're much poorer ›
An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.
- A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
- A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
- Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.
The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.
Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .
The Barry Arm Fjord
Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach
Image source: Matt Zimmerman
The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.
Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest
Image source: whrc.org
There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.
The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.
"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."
Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.
What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord
Moving slowly at first...
Image source: whrc.org
"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."
The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.
Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.
Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.
While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.
Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."
How do you prepare for something like this?
Image source: whrc.org
The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:
"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."
In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.
What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?
Some people just aren't bothered by the cold, no matter how low the temperature dips. And the reason for this may be in a person's genes.
Eating veggies is good for you. Now we can stop debating how much we should eat.
- A massive new study confirms that five servings of fruit and veggies a day can lower the risk of death.
- The maximum benefit is found at two servings of fruit and three of veggies—anything more offers no extra benefit according to the researchers.
- Not all fruits and veggies are equal. Leafy greens are better for you than starchy corn and potatoes.