Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Is It Too Easy Being Green?

We're back! Now that the holidays are over, we can finally settle back into our blogging chairs and get serious about posting. Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and New Year's! 

Since returning from Spain, I finally found the time to play catch up with all the blogs I follow. And today I was reading a stunning little post from my friend's blog named A Lifeboat Called Utopia. It's all about our global environment and economy, and what we need to do to fulfill our role as responsible participants in our ecological system. So, this got me thinking about the popular things people do so they can claim they too are eco-friendly. 

Ryan, being the author of a blog with such environmental awareness, you may be able to speak to this subject more extensively, but the one solution to global warming I hear about the most is reducing your carbon footprint. This is can be achieved through a number of ways, i.e. buying a Terra Pass or paying a couple of extra bucks for carbon offsetting on your airfare. This sounds like to me people are just buying their way out of accountability. Not to say everyone who pays for carbon offsetting doesn't make other efforts to better the environment, but the way that I feel this particular solution is marketed, and therefore perceived, is that you pay to reduce your carbon footprint, and then go about living your life with a guilt free conscience. Or at least guilt-free about global warming. However, I think the original idea was to purchase carbon offsets IN ADDITION TO making other attempts to go green, if you will. The attitude I seem to take away from all this carbon offsetting is that you can continue to drive that 20 mile commute in your gas guzzling SUV, by yourself, with no effort to carpool or switching to a more fuel efficient car. Because you've offset the damage you're causing!  On the other hand, my co-author gets up every morning at 5am to ensure she can make the train for her 30 mile commute to work, so that she doesn't have to drive her SUV everyday. Now that's responsible!

I don't watch this show often, but I caught a King of the Hill episode a few weeks ago that addressed this very issue. In an effort to better connect with their customers the propane shop that Hank works at "goes green." They do a number of things to clean up their act and become environmentally responsible. Then the competing propane shop across the street "goes green" by simply paying to reduce their carbon footprint, meanwhile going about their typical, polluting, and environmentally irresponsible ways of life. All the while clicking their heels because they can put on an eco-friendly face toward the customer. 

I have come to consider this somewhat of a cop-out. I'm all for buying that Terra Pass or purchasing from companies who have carbon offset programs, as long as you've done your homework and they are truly a responsible company. And just as important, doing your own part at home. 

Of course, all this is coming from my 35 mpg MINI Cooper driving, no commute to work, high horse. :) I understand not everyone can trade in their pick up truck for a Prius at the drop of a hat, but all I ask is to do your duty as an active member of this planet. 

I'll leave you with a few words from Ryan's blog that truly hit home for me: 
"Nature is not a zero sum game, where our gain is nature's loss. May permaculture design and a more profound understanding of our unity with nature usher in an era of regenerative economy, rather than extractive false economy. Species of the world unite!"


  1. You're absolutey right, there are many people out there who think the easiest guilt-free way to claim being green is to buy their way in. Thank goodness for the countless other individuals who actually make a real effort to be sustainable. Everyone can do their part by changing their means of commute (thanks for the props on my tiring daily train ride :), or recycling, buying green energy, etc. And then there are professionals who make their living being green: I posted a new link called Architecture 2030 by Ed Mazria, an architect who's in the business of advocating green design...check it out.

  2. I agree.

    I don't know much about the TerraPass, but I have heard of other Carbon-reduction schemes which have been elaborate hoaxes. These not only rip people off, but do not offset any Carbon, undermining the whole principle.

    I think the whole things is more or less about personal accountability, and not paying someone else to do it for you. Suck it up, and become a responsible citizen!

  3. I'm scared to tell you that I just put a down payment on a 4.0L SUV...

  4. Amen to you all! Thank you Jackie, for bringing out the positive point that hundreds of thousands of people do their due diligence to better our planet. I love that architects are dedicating their careers to green design! I'll definitely take a look-see at Architecture 2030.

    CAM, I had only heard in passing that some of those carbon offset programs may be schemes. From what I understand, TerraPass is on the up and up.

    And as for you Forthy, you will feel my wrath all the way from Dallas! Haha! Just make sure you carpool. :)

    And I failed to mention, that I have been enjoying this exceptionally mild January, even though I can probably attribute that to global warming. Although, I am sure the midwest is not enjoying their freakishly cold winter, due to the same phenomenon.

    Thanks for all your comments!

  5. The carbon offset scheme, sounds distantly familiar to me.

    I recall a Rod Serling episode of "Night Gallery," circa 1970, that was based on the 18th-19th century custom of having one's sins eaten (“Sins of the Father”). While the memory of this graphic story today still conjures up a hauntingly visceral visage in my mind, I will progress, suggesting that carbon off-setting may indeed be a "tres moderne" method to having your sins absolved. For those of you unfamiliar with the funereal practice (indeed a profession, however unsavory), or too young to recall Rod Serling's theatre, sin eating was performed by an individual of poverty. The pariah would be briskly ushered to the funeral bier to consume food and drink that was spread out on a dead person's body (presumably immediately upon death with the hope against hope that the soul was in suspense, wafting anxiously between heaven and hell). With the living person consuming the victuals, the deceased's sins were consigned to this hapless scourge, and, as we all delight in happy endings, the dead person would then be vetted into that desirable eternal neighborhood. I always wondered how the practice was passed on, father to son, perhaps? Did they have a shingle, "Sins Eaten Here"? The tradition seems to have evolved into today’s latent practice of distributing corpse cakes to mourners, and if you’ve ever been to an Irish wake, certainly there are some Gaelic tracings of this custom. But I truly digress.

    So yes, Madeleine, it is easy, certainly more expeditious to join Terra Pass and have your sins resolved throughout your lifetime as opposed to one-stop shopping on your deathbed. But perhaps there is more operating here than what we observe on the surface.

    We have to start somewhere. So if it starts as a cop-out, so be it. Did it raise awareness in the mindset of the would-be do-gooder? Will he be spurred to think about the ramifications the next time he jettisons a soda can out of his speeding car window? Or perhaps he will act on his sin and save the can (he could smash it in his bare hands if it would make him feel manly) and drop it in his recycling bin in the garage. Although I don't consider myself egregiously exploitive (I do drive a small car [although I confess that I have a proclivity to gun-it to careen around dawdling drivers]), after joining Greendimes to reduce the catalogue deluge to a mere trickle of faves, I did start thinking, and acting on, other greenly practices. Such as no longer buying bottled water (much credit goes to you for your constant harping), and as soon as we find just the right receptacle, we’ll start recycling all those wine bottles! My point is (in case you're lost in my rambling rhetoric), you plant a seed and hope it flourishes.

    This seed-planting concept may be taken a step further. Where Wal-Mart has been reviled for it’s employee practices (forced overtime without pay [thankfully it happened in the current time frame, where it’s actually illegal], inequality for female workers, ad infinitum), Wal-Mart has been compelled to do right. In this case, the seedling has transcended to a bitter pill. Forcing this behemoth to do act responsibly, if not legally, however, has made them see the light, even if they haven’t truly chugged the Kool-Aid. Realizing that by actually doing good deeds, whether employee rights, or now, with their latest “kick,” going green, it is good for the business. Despite their nefarious motives, we are starting to get what we want out of them.

    Before you think I’ve gone soft on Wal-Mart, be advised that I’m still not buying my Christmas lights from them when, on Christmas Eve, that rascally strand goes dark on Old Tannenbaum; I’ll just move the ornaments around to mask the gaping black hole and wait for the sales on the 26th. I haven’t yet forgiven them, just applauding them for knuckling under.

  6. Hey Maddy,

    You make some great points. 'Going green' has definitely become a trendy marketing strategy for companies seeking to win some easy social responsibility points. But as you rightly pointed out, true environmental responsibility is not something you can purchase in a trendy boutique at North Park.

    It's striking to me how difficult it is for our society to focus on anything but consumption. We're a nation of shopaholics! If China's the factory of the world, then America's the spendthrift shopper of the world. This is possibly the most ecologically damaging arrangement in human history.

    We invented the modern consumer economy which we now export across the globe, so it isn't surprising that our natural response to climate change or resource depletion is to somehow consume our way out of these problems. It's almost as if we think we can save the planet by shopping greener! This is clearly ridiculous. The obvious truth that many are unable (or unwilling) to see is that the greenest shopping is no shopping at all.

    The greenest thing that could happen to the shopping malls (with their massive concrete parking garages and shops full of imported garbage) is for them to go out of business. Too many Americans see themselves as consumers first, citizens second. But we don't have to define ourselves by our patterns of consumption.

    Why can't we reclaim the responsibility of good citizenship and actively participate in creating a more localized, productive economy? Now that's what I call green!


  7. It's easy to get carbon offsets, that's for sure: