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Enough of This Recycled Organic Waste

The idea of green ethics is as stupid as promoting calorie ethics, or hydration ethics, or tortilla chip ethics.

Ethics suggests a human dilemma, with unique consequences for all parties involved. Do I buy alcohol for my 19-year-old nephew so he can be the hero of the party and gain social standing, or do I decline because it is against the law and possibly against his best interest physically? If someone is beating up another person, do I jump in to save the person, or do I have a responsibility to my children to stay safe? If I find $50 outside of a store, do I tell anyone? If I then walk past a homeless person asking for money, do I give her my new findings, or even a part thereof? And if I give her money out of guilt rather than altruism, is that less of a kind gesture?

These are situations that relate to ethics. How is America’s recent interest in sustainability any part of this? We give a crap about gas mileage now because gas costs a lot, not because it’s ethical. The recent boom in all green matters, from LEED-certified buildings and the REACH chemical directive to reusing our plastic bottles and shopping bags, is not coming out of the part of humanity related to collective moral principles, no matter how good we want to feel about our actions.

What is moral about saving our earth? Nothing. We are making these changes now because we have to. Not doing so is costly and damaging, even to those usually oblivious to the problems of most of the world. Even though many people don’t want to think of this as the actions of mere animals trying to get by, most of our current concern for the environment is a concern for our survival.

What’s wrong with this? We may care about reducing our carbon footprint for important reasons, say because we are terrified at the prospect of our children and grandchildren not having our resources. That is noble and reasonable. But it’s not ethics. Sure, there are elements of preserving the environment that are ethical. Is eating meat a right of humans? Does our decision to consume an above-average amount of gas give money to companies or governments that we don’t support? These are fair questions with answers that we need to own up to.

But the parts do not a whole make. While there may be a fractionally tiny minority who only flush their toilet once a week or see burning wood exclusively from fallen trees as the only acceptable fuel to consume, most of us–and I mean almost all of us–just want live to be better. Some of this group just want life to be better for our progeny. And that’s completely fine. Embracing efficiency and intelligent usage of limited resources because we want to live better lives is not bad in my weltanschauung. Can’t we just understand sustainability efforts as raw animal instinct rather than a matter of the human condition?

When we get down to brass tacks, the only ethics in the overall concept of green ethics are how unethical it is to take something of skin and bones and make it of the soul.

4 responses to “Enough of This Recycled Organic Waste”

  1. Chrispy Chrispy says:

    Awesome post. I have to ponder this for a spell before I agree. I have some notions about our raw animal instinct, and they may not jive with an environmental bent. Thanks for the fodder.

  2. jasonleary jasonleary says:

    Thanks a ton, Chrispy. I find this site wonderful for generating thoughts and challenging assertions.

  3. GREAT post. Truly. However, it makes me feel like an even more terrible person than I already feared I was (on many levels) — as a lot of this month’s items have.
    Okay, not really. But honestly, I’ve found this month’s postings to be tremendously educational and enlightening. More often than not, I turn a blind eye to sustainability/environmental matters.
    However, this sentence of yours reminded me of something… “Do I buy alcohol for my 19-year-old nephew so he can be the hero of the party and gain social standing, or do I decline because it is against the law and possibly against his best interest physically?” I worked in a deli back in my college days where my boss allowed me to sell beer to underage kids (which was widely known by high schoolers around town) at a 100% markup – which he and I would then split the profits 50/50. It’s the American way!

    • Avatar lee lee says:

      poop-maybe it’s not that “green” isn’t in your blood, but that “ethics” aren’t in your blood. ha ha.
      i have to agree with you that this month’s posts have been intellectually challening. i take back all those nasty things i said about hating september…

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December 2009
Season Finale
November 2009
{Seven Deadly} Sins
October 2009
Mischief Making
September 2009
Green Ethics
August 2009