So Green, So With It
As an editor, I’ve always advocated for less paper, more recycling and digital delivery. I’ve always turned off my air conditioning, lights and power strips before leaving the office. I’ve recycled anything that could be pulped or melted. However, until the folks I work with attended a four-hour seminar on “green publishing,” they regarded me as something of a trash hoarder and Kilowatt miser. Well, now I’m green. Dig it: this pile of empty water bottles under my desk means that I’m not just a slob anymore—I’m hip, I’m with it, baby.
What I really am is a guy who’s bugged by wastefulness. Being wasteful is mostly a way for people to show us all how careless, thus materially transcendent, they can afford to be. It only takes flying over an American suburb to see that, en masse, we are less about utility than superfluity. In my lifetime, at least, demonstrations of power and liberty in the form of excess have practically been a pledge of allegiance.
As a child of the 1970s, I remember the lines of cars at gas stations, siphoners in the parking lots, looking out of a plane over Los Angles and wondering, “What’s all that brown stuff?” It was smog so thick you couldn’t see the ground. The river near my home dried up and its salmon died off, as redwood trees became redwood decks and tributaries became reservoirs. Meanwhile, The Invisible Pyramid and Ecotopia were required high-school reading. There were anti-litter TV ads, one of which ended with a tear rolling down an Indian chief’s cheek. All this cultured me to assume that humanoids would eventually exhaust their resources and suffocate in their own shit like yeast in a fermenter. Consequently, I’ve come to regard wastefulness as chronic—a form of mass self-destruction due to a vanity incurable as it is human.
One thing for sure: wastefulness is the result of egotism and impulsiveness. It’s a byproduct our inherent capacity to abandon a collective future for a self-indulgent present. It’s due to that temporal myopia which trumps all regard for long-range, grand-scale consequences every second of the day. By the time those consequences ream our heretofore future asses, we’re no longer personally responsible—”Hell, it wasn’t anything I did.”
It’s a fatal flaw as old as the Myth of the Fall, that exile from paradise which is basically the story of two people whose environment drastically changes due to their disregard of the admonition, “…thereof thou shalt surely die.” The fruit looked good, tasted good and was “to be desired to make one wise.” They ate, got high, got wise, got ashamed, and sacrificed a bountiful and hospitable place for an abject and deadly one.
I’d like to believe that the term “green” somehow addresses this fundamental human weakness and its contribution to our collective demise. However, as I sit on the bus and look out the window at people in their SUVs—idling in traffic, spewing poison at 25 cents a minute—I ask, “Can they really change?” If exorbitance, impracticality and morbidity are not enough to dissuade them, something less sensible will have to persuade them. I mean, most of these SUV drivers couldn’t have passed through the so-called “Hummer loophole” (the Bush administration’s 2003 expansion of Section 179 of the U.S. tax code, which gave up to $100,000 write-offs for vehicles over 6,000 pounds that were used at least 50% for work purposes), so there was no material rationale for purchasing these trucks. Thus I believe the catalyst of change will be just as irrational; it will have to be about lifestyle, identity, coolness, vanity, and stimulate the heroic, reproductive urges of the species.
If there’s hope for me to become more than a bottle-hoarder, surely there’s hope for Americans to become more than a Black-Friday stampede of conspicuous prodigals. The hope is that, if not their intellect, at least their vanity can be harnessed to make them “green aware.” The audacity of this hope is already justified; you’d have to be oblivious not to notice that greenness has found its way into corporate seminars, dating services, clothing lines, vacation packages, and marketing and PR campaigns (“An oil company as part of the solution?”). In fact, greenness is already so irrationally trendy that even the politicians—those behind-the-curve popularity contestants—can’t afford it.
Yes, the radiant future lies in harnessing vanity, myopia, selfishness and competitiveness to a big green horse. If the green horse pulls us to the desired end—health, efficiency, prosperity—I won’t complain. I’ll just have to get over the fact that morbidity, wastefulness and disregard for the future were not enough to warrant change. But when haven’t irrational impulses triumphed over rational solutions? Let them chant “Go green!” on Wednesday and “Drill baby drill!” on Friday. Their concerns for solving our domestic energy demands will never transcend their desire for cheap gas to power their alphamobiles. For they are human, and given a choice between immediate gratification and long-term sustainability, they’ll take the crack pipe every time.
© Copyright 2008, Jan DiVincenzo. All rights reserved