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Getting a Greenitude

September 18, 2009
by Jon Carroll
Muppets riding bicycles

It’s not easy being greener than thou.

Let me make myself clear. I believe that global warming is real, that wetlands require preserving, that buying local produce is a good idea, and that Americans consume far too many things, items, devices, products, and other stuff-like entities while ignoring the environmental damage caused in the countries that manufacture those things, items, devices, products, and stuff-like entities.

I recycle. I reuse. I conserve. Also: I love my children and the little honeybees.

Still, I worry. Suppose I buy carbon offsets and reduce my carbon footprint to zero. That would mean, as I understand it, that I could use all the CO2-producing energy I wanted as long as someone planted 18 trees a day in Canada. Somehow, that sounds a little bit like the Civil War practice of hiring someone to take your place in the army. You’re soldier-neutral, plus you get to sleep in a bed.

But you don’t need to worry about complicated things. You could worry about water. We are, of course, against bottled water because plastic sits in the landfill forever, plus far too much energy is used in shipping the water from those natural springs in Italy to you, the consumer. On the other hand, global climate change is leading to drought conditions in California, meaning we should all strictly control our water use. On the third hand, everyone agrees that “hydration” is just about the healthiest thing you can do for yourself, and it’s tough to hydrate without water.

And anyway, it’s not really about us; it’s about all those golf courses in Palm Springs. Except it is about us, because those golf courses aren’t going away so we have to offset them by changing our personal water footprints. At least, I think that’s right, until next month’s Frontline report about how oxygen-producing golf courses are the key to a greener planet. My head hurts.

And that’s just water. Wait’ll you start thinking about hamburger.

Which is another thing: What exactly do we mean by “green”? Is “don’t eat anything that has a face” a green statement, or is it a belief system? (And, just incidentally, does a shrimp have a face?) Is obesity a green issue, or can we all be fat on a healthy planet? Is health a green issue?

Eating fish is healthy, but the oceans are dying and the tuna are disappearing and is it just selfish to want natural Omega-3 fatty acids? Is echinacea environmentally correct?

We know the answer to “paper or plastic?” We know that plastic is bad; we can recycle paper. But just last month, a very green friend chastised me for using paper bags for my groceries. “Cloth bags, Jon,” she said. OK, but cloth bags from where? Made from what? Surely cloth bags made in China using water-intensive cotton would not be a good idea. How about hemp?

OK, I just googled “hemp bags.” I found out about a company called Rawganique that can sell me bags made from “certified organic European hemp.” And I quote: “You can literally feel good vibrations emanating from our low karma/no karma vegan hemp bags, hemp backpacks, hemp wallets, and more.” So here’s my question: Do I really want to be associated with a movement that can use “low karma/no karma vegan hemp bags” with a straight face? I might literally die of mortification.

And now green is suddenly the color of the decade, and large corporations are rushing to prove their greenitude. They are “eco-friendly.” What’s an eco? How do you befriend it? Presumably it comes from “ecology,” which is an academic discipline. So “eco-friendly” doesn’t mean anything, which is OK because “natural” and “organic” don’t mean anything either.

So you have two choices: You can learn everything there is to know about agricultural practices (crop rotation! I’m for it! What is it?), consumer packaging, organic waste recycling, precious mineral mining, automobile design, and almost every other damn thing, or you have to trust people who are trying to sell you something made according to principles they didn’t even care about a year ago.

I think we should have a rock concert televised around the world. And all the electricity used to power all the television sets used to show that friendly planet rock concert could be offset by turning Kansas into a forest. Or … Lord knows I want to help combat global warming. I’m going to turn off my lights and limit my driving and, if it’s yellow, I’m going to let it mellow. But I’m also going to buy lots of sunscreen—and maybe a tub of polar bear repellent.

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