Confessions of a Cheapskate Posing as an Environmentalist

Mother Earth better have my money

Illustration by Mike Reddy

Confessions of a Cheapskate Posing as an Environmentalist

Operator from the Nature Conservancy: How can I help you today?

Me: Hi, I want to stop giving you my money.

If I have an environmental mantra, that pretty much sums it up.

A little backstory: While visiting Portland, Ore., I was waylaid on the street by a young volunteer raising money for the Nature Conservancy who preyed upon my desire to make Austin look as progressive as our hipster sister city. Before I knew it I had given $30, a credit card-backed promise to donate every month, and a selfie celebrating my newfound charitable spirit. A month later, my true nature arose, and, well, I had the above conversation with the Nature Conservancy.

I'm not an environmentalist. I'm cheap. Like don't-flush-the-toilet-unless-it's-solid cheap. Shower-a-few-times-a-month-to-save-water cheap. Don't-run-the-AC-unless-it's-over-80-in-the-house cheap. Riding my bike to work might help Mother Earth, but I do it because gas is a racket.

Solar panels, on the other hand, are a nonstarter. I use so little electricity that recouping the investment would take a lifetime. Sorry, future generations.

Do I feel guilty about the things I'm not doing for the planet? The money not given to enviro charities? Nah. With no plans for children (not to mention my showering habits getting in the way of so many relationships) what I do is enough. We could all do more, but people could also be cooler and make me want humanity to prosper. In my opinion, a large portion of society could stand to feel the heat of climate change. I'll be long gone, suckers, enjoying my grave padded with Benjamins (or more likely Hamiltons).

I apologize to the Nature Conservancy for going against my better judgment and giving you money only to rip it back from your lovely, helping hands. To the volunteer who coaxed my credit card from me, I hope you cherish that selfie capturing one of my rare moments of weakness. But for enjoying the spoils of my own frugality I will never apologize.

It's difficult to deny that, despite beautiful moments of self-sacrifice, we generally look out for No. 1. When was the last green initiative that really took off without a financial incentive? Solar panels, hybrid cars, composting, energy saving appliances: All save you money. I'll be the first to admit I'm jaded, but even seemingly selfless acts like recycling smack of self-congratulation. In my painfully gentrified Eastside neighborhood I've been known to put my recycling cart out on the street even when it's barely full, lest neighbors think I don't recycle. But what's a little societal pressure when the end result is a planet that might not self-destruct for a few more years?

We need to realize that selfishness and environmentalism aren't at odds. Money motivates a wider swath of an otherwise doomed population. Hell, even the politically conservative can get behind green initiatives as long as you're talking about that paper. Then when you see the stagnant pee in my toilet you might think, "Damn, this dude must be rich." More likely you'll think "ew," but I'll be riding your condescending judgment all the way to the bank.

This story has been updated since publication.

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Nature Conservancy, mellow yellow, cheapskate

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