The eco-confusion between right and wrong

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Most of our research participants reflect on their household products and practices in ethical terms: what is “good” or “bad” for the environment, what is “right” or “wrong” that they do, and what it is that they “should” be doing less or more of in their everyday life. The language of “good” and “bad”, “right” and “wrong”, and “should” and “should not” convey a process of evaluation that people engage in when it comes to ordinary things and actions around their home. 

The 56-year old Melanie, an art consultant and parent educator in a GTA suburb, for example, laments about a second fridge they keep in the basement:

“There is a chest freezer downstairs, and we have an old fridge, so that is not good, an extra fridge, and we do not unplug it, we usually have something in it. Do we need it now that the kids moved out? We’re still keeping it. I did a lot of reading on it, and they say maybe it is not that energy efficient to get a new one, because you are throwing the other one out, and throwing it out in the garbage, still going into the landfill. How much energy are you saving by doing that?”

Melanie’s reflection on the second fridge grapples with contradictory considerations. While she first evaluates having an extra fridge as “not good,” she lists a number of reasons – buying a new one and trashing the old one into the landfill – that actually suggest that the contrary is true: it is better if she keeps it. And then, she interrogates whether keeping the extra fridge saves energy. Such layered reflection and questioning reveal the complicated nature of environmental evaluations, and point to people’s important ethical dilemmas.