Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Does the Planet Only Need Our Pity?

If you believe an article on WashingtonPost.com last week, "It Isn't Easy Being Green," all you need to do to be green is ... nothing.

That's right, you don't need to do lift a finger! You just have to feel bad about global warming, and you're an instant environmentalist, doing your part to save the planet from the comfort of your SUV.

Jill Hudson Neal calls herself a "green mom" and writes how An Inconvenient Truth left her guilt-ridden about global warming and her impact on the planet. Yet she methodically dismisses ways she could reduce her environmental footprint, saying, "I'm essentially too lazy and cheap to walk the path of a truly committed environmentalist."

But Hudson Neal's self-analysis stops short of truth. Living green is neither difficult nor expensive. What is hard is to admit that it's not suburban sprawl or grocery store prices that are keeping you from helping the planet, but your own refusal to make the leap from sympathy to support.

And hey, not all of us can support every cause. There are plenty of issues that all of us are sympathetic to that most of us don't actively support.
Save Darfur or global poverty are among them. While we all feel they're terrible problems, most of us don't give our money or time.

That's what makes going green so simple -- it doesn't require major investments of cash or sweat. And that's what makes the article so frustrating -- Hudson Neal's eagerness to dismiss green options that don't fit her grim outlook:

* No matter how cheap you claim to be, reducing, reusing, and recycling are better than free -- the first two can actually save money. But the green trinity are barely even mentioned.

* She derides compact fluorescent light bulbs as "twice the price" of old incandescent bulbs. True, but a typical CFL will save you $30 (ten times the cost of the bulb) in energy costs over its lifetime! Multiply that by dozens of bulbs in a typical house, and you're looking at serious savings.

* She writes, "Trading in our family's SUV for a hybrid car and riding a bike to the grocery store are compelling thoughts, but neither is going to happen." Who says you have to do either? Living green isn't about sacrifice and self-denial, it's about making smart choices. If you're buying an SUV, choose a Ford Escape Hybrid that gets 40 city miles to the gallon. If you need to hit the grocery store, save on gas by stopping on the way home from work instead of making a separate trip.
In fact, Hudson Neal doesn't list a single thing she does do to be green. The only step she'll even consider is switching to organic bananas and milk. While that's certainly a healthy choice, saying the purchase of organic bananas and milk makes you an environmentalist is like saying standard food buyers are pesticide-loving Earth-haters. It's just one pixel of a much bigger picture.

Strangely, Hudson Neal admits she's fine with being the shade of green that, as Kermit the Frog himself put it, blends in with so many ordinary things. "If I picked apart every lifestyle choice my family made in the past few years, there'd be a long non-green list with which to contend, though probably not too different from the average American clan."

This sympathetic complacency won't solve global warming. What will? Reducing the environmental impact of yourself, the businesses you work for and patronize, and the governments that your tax dollars support.

That's why Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment created the Green Living Challenge, to show that smart, sustainable choices and a low-cost, small, simple steps can add up to make a major change in your environmental impact without making major changes in your lifestyle.

In the face of a problem as daunting as climate change, CFLs, car sharing, and reusable coffee mugs may not seem like powerful weapons. But if every American took up the fight, they'd be the tools of revolution. Will Hudson Neal and others like her answer the call to arms, or continue to be comfortable with complaining?

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