Is Buying Green a Moral Offset?

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While consumers can restore their eco-ego through carbon offset programs after buying an SUV or plane ticket, new research suggests that buying green products functions as a type of “moral offset.”

Researchers at the University of Toronto questioned the assumption that the “green consumer” is also socially responsible and a humanitarian. The study found that making environmentally responsible consumer choices leads people to make unethical decisions (or at least not as nice ones) later on:

“the halo associated with green consumerism has to be taken with reservations. While mere exposure to green products can have a positive societal effect by inducing pro-social and ethical acts, purchasing green products may license indulgence in self-interested and unethical behaviors.”

The researchers conducted three experiments in which students were asked to purchase or evaluate green products, or buy conventional ones, and then participate in an “unrelated” task. In each experiment, students who didn’t buy green products acted more altruistically and honestly in the second task than those who did. In the words of the researchers, “people act less altruistically and are more likely to cheat and steal after purchasing green products as opposed to conventional products.” However, if you consider that 98 percent of so-called “green products” are based on misleading claims, then that moral high ground is even shakier.

So are Prius drivers and folks who drink organic, fairly traded coffee not as nice as those driving a conventional sedan and drinking Starbucks? Seems like a question to ask the Girl Scouts and Salvation Army: Are people more generous in front of Safeway or Whole Foods?

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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