Posts Tagged ‘green movement’

Are you a ‘true’ environmentalist / vegan / feminist?

Well, looks like I’m not a ‘true’ environmentalist. I still have a car, I still don’t buy 100% organic, I haven’t eaten the carbon-intensive blind cat, I’m still on the grid, and yep, there’s even still a roll of paper towels (recycled) in my kitchen — mostly for said cat’s occasional hairball.

I have a bone to pick with the word ‘true.’ I’ve seen it slapped on a bunch of different labels recently, and a certain pattern is emerging. I’m not a ‘true’ feminist because I have reservations about Slut Walk as an expression of equality and a demand for respect. Bill Clinton, who chooses not to eat animal products for health reasons, is not a ‘true’ vegan. Hell, I’m not even a ‘true’ vegetarian because I have clam chowder once or twice a year.

Let’s decode this. Can I suggest that, in each of these cases, by ‘true’ the speaker simply means conforming to beliefs s/he personally holds, things that s/he already does? By implication, anyone we don’t consider a ‘true’ [insert label here] is, well, lame. I won’t deny that there are different levels of commitment. There are. But using ‘true’ to describe difference isn’t about one’s own commitment to a set of values. It’s about stepping on other people in order to feel superior and exclusive.

Worst of all, it doesn’t help anything.  Instead of encouraging the people who are most receptive to learning and perhaps committing more to a cause, it alienates. Making people defensive is a terrible way to promote your cause. Instead of reaching out, it closes off. And worst of all, people are more likely to judge an entire cause as being preachy, intolerant, and close-minded after even a few bad encounters.

I’ve been on both sides of this problem. I used to scoff at buying organic because most of the people I knew who did so were self-righteous Whole Foods shoppers. After an unpleasant encounter with vegans on my college campus, I chowed down on a hamburger. At the same time, I’m pretty darn judgmental myself.  I judge the people in my condo who don’t recycle their plastic water bottles, people with lots of kids in tow, people who accept a plastic bag when buying a single item, people who still think they can somehow shop their way into sustainability.  Not judging, not labeling — now that’s hard. But shouldn’t we try?

Labels are convenient, but they present the appearance of unity without acknowledging that one person’s idea of being an environmentalist or vegan or whatever will not totally coincide with anyone else’s. (And that’s good, because adopting a label does not give you the right to stop thinking for yourself.)  Deeming a ‘true’ anything is completely subjective and particularly unhelpful. Let’s cut it out already.

Have you ever used ‘true’ with a label you identified with? What did you really mean by it?

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The Dumbing Down of Green

In the past week, I came across two comments by completely different people about how sucky/snobby/discouraging it is when people say it’s hard to be green. Given the name of my blog, I took this maybe a little personally and began to wonder if I was going about marketing greenness in a completely ass-backward manner. Is my blog discouraging people from going greener? Is this an identity crisis I sense sneaking up on me? Uh oh.

On one hand, I agree that we need to be encouraging even very small, easy steps towards more sustainable living. Everybody starts somewhere; even if it’s just recycling your disposable plastic water bottles, hey, that could lead to buying a reusable and then realizing that other disposables in your life can be swapped out for reusables. There is no room for snobbery in this movement. However green we think we are, we could all be doing more. Full stop.

On the other hand, the problems of climate change, fresh water shortages, and loss of biodiversity are so enormous and so immediate that I am very reluctant to dumb down ‘being green’ to the level of small, easy, minimally effective things we can do, like changing a lightbulb or switching to a reusable glass drinking straw. Even if recognizing and taking responsibility for the full problem is daunting, isn’t the first step to solving any problem to identify it? How productive is it really to 1) trivialize the issue and/or 2) overemphasize small actions that make little or no difference?

There’s room for both approaches, of course. The ‘being green is easy’ approach is fine to start with and will certainly attract more new people than the ‘crap, we’re really screwing ourselves over’ one. My problem with the ‘being green is easy’ attitude is that it doesn’t necessarily encourage us to try harder, do more. It’s limited unless it leads to a realization of the full scope of the issue and a desire to do more about it. 

Ultimately, I can’t quite bring myself to endorse being green[er] as easy. Some of the changes are easy, sure. But the attitude change — the ability to see all resources as acutely limited and act accordingly, the willingness to see how interconnected we are and take responsibility — now that’s harder. I think a massive collective attitude change will be essential to making any significant dent in the problem. It may not happen; it certainly won’t happen as quickly as we need it to. Judging by the sense of panic I feel about giving up my car, it won’t be easy, either. I’m hopeful that encouraging people to think about their decisions as I detail my own quirky foray into greenness is ultimately going to be more effective than claiming it’s easy.

And besides, it just feels more honest.

What are your thoughts? Is it easy or hard to be green? Do I need a marketing overhaul?

How to sabotage your cause

I overheard an older couple in the grocery store the other day. The woman picked up a bottle of organic V8, to which the man grumbled, “If it’s organic, I don’t want it.” Clearly the word ‘organic’ meant something different to him than what it means to me — grown without synthetic pesticides with [hopefully] more sustainable farming practices. At a guess, ‘organic’ meant to him what it used to mean to me: something that only snooty, yoga-practicing, more-sustainable-than-thou, upper middleclass white women bought.

We can blame some of this bad rap on mainstream media. They’re a wonderfully convenient scapegoat for both left and right. However, I think we also need to take responsibility for our own PR problems. They’re not unique to us; every movement has them. Inevitably, passion and enthusiasm lead us to do things that impact how we are perceived and effectively limit our ability to promote our cause.

Well, hell. Might as well make a guide out of it. Here’s the slightly tongue-in-cheek Not Easy to Be Green guide to sabotaging your own cause. Go on, fill the people around you with a murderous rage to take your cause and stamp on it.

OK. Start with a generous heaping of intolerance. Intolerance for people who don’t share your cause, who don’t see how obvious it is that you’re right and they’re wrong, who even think there could be any room for uncertainty or doubt. Call them stupid, selfish, ignorant, or brainwashed. Exclude anyone who doesn’t share 100% of your views on the subject.

Next, stir in a few fistfuls of impatience. Disregard the fact that people respond to different things at different rates. Jump on friends for continuing to buy factory farmed chicken, for exploiting bees, or for not switching to a composting toilet already. Even if they’ve made some strides to support your cause, belittle their efforts as meaningless and ineffectual in the face of what they should be doing.

Now toss in some self-righteousness, because nothing wins people over to your cause so quickly as being told how much better you are and how much you do for your cause. Judge everyone who doesn’t come up to your standards (slackers). Ignore everyone who goes further than you (overachievers). 

Finally, pick a fight with other people who, for all intents and purposes, also support your cause. Nothing shows how wonderfully mindful, compassionate, and admirable your cause is like a whole lot of petty in-fighting. Come to blows over whether CFLs or LEDs are better choices. Quarrel over who is harming fewer animals. Quibble over motivation. And best all of, form divisions within your cause. Because that whole ‘united we stand, divided we fall’ thing? It’s insignificant rubbish compared to your cause to eradicate the evils of toilet paper on the Earth.

Include all four elements in every conversation you strike up, and you will no doubt end up having a net negative impact on your cause. Note: I am not liable if you get punched, ostracised, or otherwise negatively impacted by following this guide.

Did I miss any? Do you see this happening in the causes you support? Do you ever find yourself doing any of these? (Obviously, I am susceptible to the intolerance part. Sigh.)

Why I hate the phrase ‘Save the Earth’

It’s a catchy slogan, and it’s everywhere:  “Save the Earth by changing a lightbulb!” “Save the Earth by not using plastic bags at the supermarket!” “‘Save the Earth by buying recycled toilet paper!” The real message: you don’t actually have to do much, give up anything, or go significantly out of your way to feel that warm fuzzy feeling that you are part of the solution. You are green because you took ten seconds and swapped your incandescent for a CFL. Congratulations.

I have news you don’t want to hear. You are part of the problem. I am part of the problem. In order for us not to be part of the problem, we’d either have to take drastic measures to reduce our impact and put conspicuous effort into undoing the damage we’ve already done, or we’d have to be dead.  Unless you’re No Impact Man (and I suspect that even he isn’t really no impact, although he sure tries a lot harder than the rest of us), you are part of the problem. Full stop.

You can (and should) certainly do things to be less of the problem. By all means, mitigate environmental impact by changing a lightbulb.  Be less of the problem by eating less meat. (Not very catchy, huh?) I think we should continue to make every possible effort to reduce our impact, preserve our environment, and respect the many lucky coincidences that allowed life to thrive here. But as far as saving the Earth goes, well, at this point, we’re left looking at damage control. Even if we stopped all our emissions producing activities like, today, we would still need to deal with the climate change juggernaut we’ve already set off.

Moreover, the Earth doesn’t need saving. The Earth is a solid, rocky sphere. Some watery bits on top, some molten bits in the center. But basically rock. Regardless of what humans do, the planet itself will be absolutely fine until it’s engulfed by the dying sun in the far distant future. (My guess is that we won’t be around to see it happen.) What needs saving is the Earth as we know it, with its staggeringly awesome biodiversity, fecundity, and ability to support a couple billion humans comfortably.

I understand that ‘Save the Earth’ is a useful and catchy marketing phrase that might inspire more people to make more ecologically conscious decisions.  But I’m also concerned that it paints too simple, too optimistic a picture when we desperately need people to do more than screw in a CFL.

Why a Kindle isn’t on my holiday wishlist

My idea of a good Saturday used to involve going to the library in the morning, getting a stack of books, and spending the rest of the day in my sunny room devouring one after another. Even though I no longer have the leisure to do that everKindle Reading Devicey Saturday, I’m still definitely a book junkie.

So, here’s my next question: can you be green and a booklover at the same time? (Books are basically dead trees.) Amazon’s answer is, yes, of course you can. Go on, buy a Kindle and go digital. (Alternately, you could plant a tree for every book you read.)

Amazon is probably right. Even figuring in the carbon footprint of a Kindle over its lifetime, including manufacturing, transporting, energy consumption, and finally recycling, I’m sure it comes out to less than what my personal library has incurred. But I still have trouble stomaching the idea of curling up with…an electronic device. Of having no visible books in a room. Of not being able to flip through and touch actual pages, admire unique fonts, shelve them in my idiosyncratic filing system.

Part of me is glad that Kindle may mean that fewer trees are cut down to produce Danielle Steeles, Tom Clancys, Sidney Sheldons, and all the other mass market crap I don’t read and would never buy in the first place. (Sorry.)

However, there is something special about a physical book. Part of it is tactile: the texture of the cover, the smell of newly printed pages, the slight signs of wear left by your own hands and repeated readings. I treat my books nicely, but many of my favorites still carry the marks of my affection: a tiny splash of tea, a smudge of chocolate, a few strands of cat hair poking out at one end.  My own books are as familiar and comfortable as a favorite pair of slippers, and their history is at least partially my history.  

I know nostalgia alone isn’t a good enough reason to keep killing trees. But I reserve the right to be un-green in at least a few areas of my life. Having a car is one of them. Not switching to solar power or digital books are two others. You eat meat; I’ll read paper books. We’ll both pretend we can’t do without.

Thoughts on the Sigg Recall

My Sigg: the FlightA favorite of the green movement, Sigg bottles are reusable aluminum water bottles with snazzy designs that are marketed in three ways:

 Reducing single-use plastic water bottle/cup waste (my Sigg has served me for over a year so far and eliminated my 1 plastic water bottle a week habit).

Reducing exposure to toxins present in plastic water bottles (reusable and otherwise) such as BPA, an endocrine disruptor leached from some plastics (#7 and #3).

Reducing the unpleasant plasticky or metallic taste associated with other resuable bottles.

Recently the news leaked that older Siggs, with their coppery baked-on liner, contain trace amounts of non-leaching BPA. Greenies shrieked in horror and dismay and rushed to Whole Foods to exchange their older Siggs for free shiny new non-BPA replacements.

Hang on a sec. Shiny. New. Green? Those words don’t belong in the same line.

As I understand it, the core value of the green movement is to reduce, reuse, and recycle. I can imagine that you’d be upset if you bought a Sigg primarily because you were looking for a non-BPA bottle. But if you bought yours, as I did, on the grounds that you wanted to stop being a part of the casual waste of resources, I think you’re being a little hypocritical in relinquishing your non-leaching bottle so readily. Even though Siggs are completely recyclable, recycling should be the last step. Reusing and reducing always come first.

There are plenty of good reasons to replace your Sigg. Siggs dent quite readily and a severe dent can actually mess up the inside liner and make them unsafe to drink from. If you’ve had and used your Sigg for over a year, and it no longer closes well or has other functionality issues, you might be justified in replacing it.

However, to replace your Sigg just because it has trace amounts of non-leaching BPA seems silly to me. You’re exposed to a lot more BPA in canned food. You are probably exposed to more endocrine-disrupting toxins just stepping outside for a walk. Heck, you probably apply them personally to your skin, hair, or teeth every day. On the day in which we have reduced our daily exposure to toxins to basically nil, then you’re entitled to be upset about being subjected to trace amounts of non-leaching BPA. Don’t hold your breath.

My Sigg is red, with a design of a gnarled tree and a bird taking flight. It has two substantial dents from when my car door closed on it.  (Yes, I know…I have a car…) Despite the aesthetic imperfection, it works perfectly.  Water from it tastes like water, not like plastic, not like metal. It goes everywhere with me. 

Replace it with a free one? No way. You can take my Sigg with its non-leaching-trace-amounts-of-BPA-liner out of my cold, dead hands.

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