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National Geographic wants you to feel guilty about your poultry consumption

November 2, 2012

Not every consumer survey provides an accurate picture of the world. They all have their unique purposes and biases. Take the National Geographic Greendex survey, which ranks people around the world based on the environmental impact of their consumer behavior.

Tsk-tsk, fellow Americans! Based on the 2012 Greendex, you have a lot to account for with your chicken and beef consumption ... and all those TVs and PCs per household ... have you no shame?

The Greendex, which measures consumer behavior in 17 countries in housing, transportation, food consumption and goods, purports to track changes in sustainable consumption at the global level and within specific countries. National Geographic makes no secret of the purpose: “The Greendex is meant to encourage consumer awareness and provide consumers with global reference points for comparing their own consumption patterns.”

Calculate your environmental sin 

You can calculate your own personal Greendex by using the online Greendex calculator. No-nos include consumption of beef, chicken and seafood. Consumption of bottled water also brings demerits. The Germans are especially naughty in this, say the surveyors.

Good behavior, on the other hand, includes consumption of locally grown vegetables and a willingness to pay environmental premiums wherever possible.

Worldwide, consumers who feel most guilty about their environmental impact are least to blame, say our accusers at National Geographic. Americans are the least green and among those feeling the least guilty, they say.

Good environmental players in the developing world 

The top-scoring (good) consumers of the 2012 Greendex are in the developing economies of India, China and Brazil, in descending order. “Those in emerging economies continue to round out the top tier of the Greendex ranking, while the lowest scores are all earned by consumers in industrialized countries. American consumers’ behavior still ranks as the least sustainable of all countries surveyed since the inception of the study in 2008, followed by Canadian, Japanese and French consumers,” say the surveyors.

Chicken consumption, the surveyors lament, is high among a majority of consumers in most of the countries surveyed. Mexicans, Argentineans, Australians, Hungarians, Spanish and Americans, in that order, lead the way in their at-least-weekly consumption. And, compared to 2010, Argentinean, British, Mexican and Russian consumers are now more likely to eat chicken more often.

And so much work is still to be done by National Geographic. Consider this survey finding: “Consumers across the 17 countries are yet to be fully aware of the negative impact beef consumption has on the environment – consumers in the countries surveyed are more likely to disagree that meat is bad for the environment than they are to agree.” Shocking, don’t you think?

Another moral dilemma 

Well, here is a bigger problem for National Geographic and the Greendex. People in developing countries around the world are struggling, yearning to be able to eat more poultry and beef and seafood. If they could, they would now; and when they can, they will. What’s more, if our very socially responsible friends at National Geographic were to be successful in shaming them from consuming meat proteins (which won’t happen) and they chose not to one day own TVs and PCs, who’s going to watch Nat Geo and take the online surveys?

Well, there’s another moral dilemma for them. 

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