As a teen, I earned the moniker “Woodsy the Owl” from a buddy because I lectured him any time he dropped candy wrappers on the ground. “Sorry Woodsy,” he would say without picking it up. I would, and I’m sure I stuffed it down his shirt collar a few times. Littering enraged me. If you remember the 80’s, people didn’t think twice about tossing large bags of empty fast food packaging out their car windows once they finished eating. I can’t think of a more apt representation of 80’s culture than the image of a pudgy hand holding a bag of McDonald’s refuse out the driver’s side window of a car and carelessly letting go. I’m getting incensed right now, thinking of it. The indignant voice inside wants to scream, “You immoral bastards! I wish I could have just once crammed that trash down your throats.”
My lecturing was effective at any rate with this one particular friend. He told me that because I never let up he thought twice before throwing his garbage on the ground. He would clarify: “I still do it, but I think twice about it.” At the time, I’m sure I received a small sense of self-satisfaction at this apparent victory, but now, I recognize the troubling aspect to it as well. While people can argue this, most ethics are framed by the religious to some degree (maybe not directly by a specific religious tradition, but by a religious perspective.) Green ethics is no different. Again, this is arguable, but I would question whether or not anyone can be completely drawn to green ethics for purely practical purposes. There is a spiritual dimension that guides many of those who “live green.” I’m not against this; it’s what drew me to eco-consciousness in the first place. But as with anything that borders on the religious, one becomes more susceptible to guilt, and more susceptible to fanaticism.
Imagine the conditions we are going to see developing in those trying to live a life as close to carbon neutral as possible. A good, green, deeply repressed man, wakes up one night, and methodically changes every light bulb in his house back to the old fashioned 100 watt gas guzzler. He then gets in the shower, and instead of turning the water on and off when soaping, when rinsing, he leaves it running consistently for the next 3 days as he cleans his house with products more suitable for city morgues. He’s still not satisfied, so he buys a Hummer for next to nothing, and drives it back and forth from one end of the Massachusetts turnpike to the other, until both his bank account and the Hummer’s gas tank are empty. He now has a huge, bloated carbon deficit that he can rededicate himself to eliminating.
Guilt over carbs is one thing, fanaticism is another. Chances are there is some Kaczynskian loner out there, possibly working for a drug company, who understands, and feels called by Providence to act upon this understanding, that the only way to halt the ecological avalanche in its tracks is to reduce the human population by some gargantuan percentage. Misanthropy often walks hand in hand with green ethics.
My own issue with “living green” is not guilt or fanaticism, but confusion. Take the slow food or buy local movement. This makes sense, but what about the effect on African farmers shut out from our markets? I have a difficult time saying to this person, “tough shit, the earth depends on your continued suffering.” And then there’s the money it would take for me to really reduce my carbon footprint: 30 grand on a solar roof that would reduce my carbs to near zero. It’s about as realistic to me right now as winning the lottery. Some people dream about a Corvette, others dream about solar roofs.
For me, it’s the green sensibility that is important, a sensibility I attribute with a younger version of myself. Losing sight of it is a big bummer of 30-something practicality. When I ride my bike to the train in the morning, I may be acting responsible, but if I have no awareness of my surroundings, and my head is locked in thoughts about the work day meetings ahead, I’ve become ecologically unconscious, no different than the person hustling by me in the Suburban.