Thursday, March 01, 2007

It's Hard Being Green

As anyone who watched the Oscars can tell you, 2007 is revealing itself to be the year when green went mainstream. Al Gore challenged Leo for Hunk of the Night, Melissa Ethridge rocked out to a powerpoint of green living tips, and the pre-show commentators sprinkled the words "hybrid limo" like so much recycled confetti (which fell as the credits rolled). The New York Times' Sunday Styles section has already run cover articles about "environmentally concerned couples" "offsetting" their guests' wedding travels by planting trees and donating to alternate energy campaigns. There couldn't be a hotter or more worthy cause in America right now than living green, reducing carbon emissions, and using less and better kinds of energy.

Bimbo attended a conference last weekend on the new green energy economy at which one panelist declared "There will be a new energy economy. The important question is who will own it." Betty would add to this wise statement that another important question is that carbon reduction is done right, and really means something rather than just raising awareness, which is never an end in itself.

Take the "conflicted couples" and their carbon offsets touted in the NYT articles I've linked to above. These offsets are actually bullshit. In fact, Betty thinks "offsetting" your "carbon footprint" (incidentally, could there be a more beautiful phrase than "carbon footprint"?) is akin to a Catholic committing a sin, but excusing herself by telling herself she will offset the sin later by confessing and repenting. Why not just donate to rainforest, tree-planting, or alternative energy organizations and NOT take that fuel-guzzling plane trip? Why not just NOT SIN?

Keep your eyes peeled in the coming months for signs of hip green culture all around you. Betty saw an ad for EXXON (of all companies!) while waiting for a subway yesterday, talking all about offsets and saving our planet. Oh my geez! See Betty's post on "Marketing Niceness" for more of what she makes of this cynical phenomenon.

And don't even get her started on "clean coal" companies, that do little for the earth and aggressively combat the development of alternative energy sources like wind and solar power in the parts of the country (Appalachia, mainly) where King Coal has long dominated, and killed. As green goes mainstream, real advances will happen, but so will real bullshit, and we owe it the Earth to learn to detect the difference. Indeed, to start really living green we must all learn more, demand more, and sacrifice more (e.g. paying more for cleaner products and changing our habits) than some people would have us know.


Nancy D., Girl Detective said...

Yeah, I kind of agree with you, Betty, but I think the cool thing about offsets is that they give you a sense of control. But they shouldn't be relied on. Your carbon footprint really is so deceptive, anyway. I applaud myself all the time for living in a city and walking everywhere and never having had a car. But what about all the energy it takes to get the stuff to me so it is available at my fingertips? And I think airplane trips are a real difficult thing for environmentalists to give up because they've come to rely on them so much, and it doesn't seem as sinful because it's not part of your daily habit.

Betty & Bimbo said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Nancy D. It's good to give (and A LOT!) to all of the causes earnest offsetters are giving to, but I think one should not operate under the delusional solipsism that tells you are "offsetting" your own travel or whatever. We need to offset MANY peoples' decades of bad habits if we are going to turn these terrifying trends around, and planting two trees because you flew across the country is not going to do it.

Nancy D., Girl Detective said...

Oh, I totally agree. I think I was unclear before. I think for some people (like me) it's easy to adopt a certain kind of eco-friendly urban lifestyle, but when you start looking at it further, it may not be as great as it seems. And that's where the challenge, and the hypocrisy, is: environmentalists need to decrease their dependence on plane travel (especially for short hops--across the country is actually more efficient) and look at how cities themselves can be made more efficient.