It Ain't Easy Being Green: First Signs Of Eco-Fatigue

With an increasing number of products marketed as “green” and activists raising the pressure on people to think about the environment day and night, more and more consumers are getting grouchy about having to always be eco-friendly.

Kermit said it best: it ain't easy being green (Gord Fynes)
Kermit said it best: it ain't easy being green (Gord Fynes)


The starting point may well have been the 2006 release of Al Gore's movie about climate change, "An Inconvenient Truth." Ever since, more and more brands have launched "eco-friendly" products on the market. From cars to light bulbs, it is hard not to be pressured to go "green".

When Le Monde invited its readers to send in their stories about how "adverse they are to sustainable development", the paper received a huge number of e-mails.

Consumers feel that they are being taken for a ride when they are sold new, green products such as: "Low-energy light bulbs. 7 euros each. Duration: inferior to incandescent light bulbs. May contain polluting agents'. Christophe, a 43-year-old computer technician who recycles, thinks it might be much cheaper and greener not to buy them in the first place.

Florian, a 23-year-old student, believes that - as a French consumer - daily "earth-friendly" gestures won't make a difference, as most of the world's pollution comes from industrial Russia, China and the US.

Are Christophe and Florian atypical? Quite the opposite, says French pollster Ipsos, whose surveys show that an increasing number of people believe "too much is being done about climate change." In 2008, 33% agreed with the sentence above, but today that number has climbed to 45%.

According to experts, " green fatigue" made its first appearance after the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, which didn't yield much in the way of change. People started wondering if companies were plotting together to make consumers buy their new green products, and members of the "green resistance movement" started to emerge.

Rémy Oudghiri of the Ipsos Institute also explains this trend by the fact that, in times of economic crisis, people are focused on caring for themselves, rather than the planet.

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo- Gord Fynes

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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