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Hour Town Archive: Cover Stories


June 1995

by Sean Kelly

Greenbacks. The green stuff. Green gold. Rolling in the green. A lot of expressions about money have the word green in them. More often than not however, the most important green-the environment-is forgotten.

Money is the tool we use to measure the value of a product or service. But the toll our modern economy takes on the environment is rarely reflected in the true price of something. For example, is the air pollution that results from transporting a product halfway around the world factored into the price we pay?
So would a new type of money be any better? Although alternative currencies such as Ithaca Hours can increase the local money supply, guarantee that this new money stay localized and create jobs, do they have the potential to be truly green dollars?

While creating a whole new system of pricing is probably beyond the scope of local currencies, there are many reasons why Ithaca HOURS-even though they're gold, orange and blue-can be green dollars.

  1. Ithaca HOURS encourage the buying of locally-produced goods. Products that originate at home do not have to be shipped from afar, which cuts down pollution from transportation. In the case of food, chemical preservatives are not needed to keep the produce "fresh" for the long haul.
  2. If the product is processed and refined from local materials, we get more "value-added" from our natural resources. This means we do not have to exploit as many natural resources to receive the same value.
  3. Ithaca HOURS are earned, spent and re-invested here in our community, so it's easier to see what your money is up to. You can better determine if a product is being made in an environmentally-sound way, or if the service contributes to a healthy environment.
  4. Ithaca HOURS also help build direct economic relationships between producer and customer. If you know the person growing your food, making the materials for your new house, etc., you stand a greater chance of affecting that person's environmental standards.
  5. If more of our wealth stays here to strengthen locally-owned or controlled businesses, our community as a whole becomes more self-reliant. And with self-reliance comes the power to make the decisions affecting our future, including the possibility of changing economic patterns to build sustainability.

These days money-and jobs-move around at the touch of a button. Local communities can't control the forces affecting them. One-industry towns or communities where the main employers live (and make decisions from) thousands of miles away are vulnerable to economic blackmail. "If you don't relax this environmental standard which is affecting our profit, we will just move somewhere else." While citizens may say "Not in my backyard", many large companies are saying "Not in My Profit Margin!"

The president of auto-parts manufacturer Magna International once said, "Money has no heart, no soul, no conscience, no homeland. It knows only profit." It's time for money to have a home, and a heart-a green heart. After all, money is just paper. Its value comes from nature's bank-the trees, the oceans, the air, the soil-home to all living things.

(from Maritime Money, Halifax, Nova Scotia)

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