Monday, August 10, 2009

It Isn't Easy Being Green

Green. It's the new black. Everyone is wearing it. On their sleeves, that is. "Sustainability" has catapulted from a good idea and a grass roots movement into a revolution and a national obsession. Frantic cries of "Global warming!" and "Carbon footprint" are echoing across the country with all the intensity of Paul Revere shouting that the British were coming.
Perhaps the ecologic danger is no less real, but it turns out, it depends on whom you talk to. We can't seem to get a consensus on the raging debate over whether the polar ice caps are in fact melting. Not that I've been trying to pin down those in the know. Some say yes, some say no. But quite frankly I have been too distracted with trying to raise my children to be responsible and productive members of society on every level to worry too much about it. But now that the little darlings have learned to balance their checkbooks, save their tax receipts, write a sincere thank you note, respond to an rsvp, clip coupons, read a recipe, grocery shop, do their own laundry, be courteous to insipid government workers, drive a stick shift, and apply for college scholarships I will have more time to interview polar bears.
However, the fever-pitched battle cry for "sustainability" was not waiting patiently for my schedule to lighten up. It is relentless and pervasive and bombarding us from the most unlikely places. Not only is it impossible to pick up a single magazine without it touting the "green" anthem, but just the other day I was in one of those huge box stores because there is no place else to shop anymore (a diatribe for another day) when I came across these words on the air dryer in the ladies room: "24 trees will be saved during the life of this hand dryer."
I left the ladies room but I couldn't shake the thought. It haunted me as I piled paper towels, paper plates, paper napkins and toilet paper into my shopping cart. 24 trees. How did they know that? It sounded so very convincing. After all, it didn't say "approximately 24 trees." No. It was exactly 24 trees. So then I couldn't help but wonder what kind of trees? California Redwoods or volunteer saplings that spring up between mowings? Actually, as it turns out, I have a couple of scrub oaks in my yard I'd be happy to see turned into something useful...
And then I couldn't help but wonder what would become of the hand dryer when it's life was over. Would it go directly into a landfill? Or maybe recycled into braces to improve adolescent smiles? And then what would become of the braces once they had done their job? I broke into a cold sweat as I considered all the horrible implications and the lack of satisfying answers. I can't stay on this track...I need my sleep.
So is it just me? Or are we all feeling subtly shamed into obsessing over the irreversible damage we are doing to the ecosystem if we choose to irresponsibly dry our hands on paper towels?
We are told to buy "water sense" toilets, "formaldehyde free" insulation, compact florescent light bulbs, and on and on it goes. Suddenly SUVs are as vilifying as second-hand smoke. And though I don't smoke and drive an economical car, I just can't take one more slice from the guilt pie. Like kudzu there is simply too much of it around and no way to get rid of it.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all for being responsible. I don't waste food. I open the dish washer before it hits the dry cycle. I never leave the lights on when I'm not in the room. I diligently recycle. But I tend to choke on anything that is rammed down my throat.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, there is one thing the invisible and elusive "they" aren't telling us about being green. So allow me to let you in on a little secret: It's hard work! It's tough enough to get the small number of people in my household to sort their whites and darks, rinse dishes and load the dishwasher or put their clothes on hangers and their trash in strategically located cans. But now I am supposed to gather that trash and wash it, rinse it, sort it, drive it to the recycle center or pay to have it picked up at the curb and try to convince the rest of the world to do the same. It's like having a part-time job as a volunteer.
And all this so my conscience won't come unhinged, my children's children will rise up and call me blessed, and will be able to eat mercury free salmon and discuss the bright future of the spotted owl and bask in their environmental stewardship.
Fine. But let's just be completely honest about all the extra time, money and effort this supposedly tranquil color is demanding of us, shall we? Now instead of waste, excess, irresponsibility and the American way, we are constantly bombarded by our obligation to future generations. Who built this bandwagon, anyway? My best guess it that it's probably not the profit driven folks at Huggies or Acquifina.
And just in case you are ready to wad up your "It's Easy Being Green" non-dyed, cotton fiber, reusable grocery store tote and throw it at me, let me assure you I have been environmentally conscious since before cool people used "groovy" in everyday conversation.
Our household was its own version of Mother Earth News. We gleefully collected tons of newspapers from the neighbors for my older brother's yearly Boy Scout paper drive. Around the same time my mother read about burning tightly rolled newspaper logs in the fireplace. We didn't do this out of economic necessity, so I can only assume we were ahead of our time. They didn't burn like real logs but we felt pretty smug fanning the smoldering ashes while jealoulsy smelling the chopped wood logs (gasp!) our more boorish and less conscientious neighbors burned in their fire- places.
One summer my eccentric aunt saved all our soda pop cans and patiently cut, sculpted, painted and arranged them into giant bouquets of flowers using heavy cotton gloves, metal shears and oil paints. My mother still has one on her formal dining room table that looks as good as the day my aunt ceremoniously dropped it there in a drunken stupor, so I can only imagine all those cans would still be intact if they were in a landfill rather than on my mother's table.
When I had children of my own I trained them to save and sort aluminum cans, plastic milk jugs, glass (by color) and the requisite newspapers. We diligently sent our pop tops to the Ronald Mc Donald House in St. Louis to help offset the cost of kidney dialysis. I knew I had crossed into some sort of invisible obsessive/com- pulsive behavior when I began raiding the trash cans at my children's sporting events and grabbing cans from people in the stands before they were finished with them. But all I could think about were all those poor kids whose kidneys didn't work.
Eventually I became mentally and emotionally unhinged and on the verge of needing in-patient therapy. Certainly my children were on the verge of needing it.
Fortunately those days are behind me. The pendulum has finally swung from either side back to the middle where it has rested. I can't say the same for the rest of the country. Guilt and obsession have been replaced with hard won sanity and for me, that means balance and harmony. I am still doing my part to keep this planet spinning and will continue quietly as a responsible global citizen.
But be forewarned. Even if the entire world is on the verge of ecologic collapse, I refuse to give up my Charmin habit.

1 comment:

Tara Lynn Thompson said...

No worries Catherine. I'm there for you. I'm busy breathing deeply, revving my SUV mother, throwing away plastic bags if I simply don't like the look of them, buying florescent light bulbs, and running water while I brush my teeth for no other reason than I like the sound.
I'm here to offset you any way I can. You can count on me. Together, we'll cancel each other out. It's the perfect friendship.

By the way, LOVE this article. And the only thing I like about green is the fact it brings out my eyes.

You the woman.