Friday, April 13, 2007

It Ain't Easy Being Green

When I was 21, I spent a good portion of my senior year at Central dating a freshman girl named Erica. Other than marching band, we had little in common and mostly I just wanted to fuck her...but, as my friend Mike very accurately reminds me, I somehow wasn't able to just do that thing and move on. I had to make it a whole RELATIONSHIP, and truth to tell, it was a pretty decent one. I dumped her hard in the spring when I couldn't hack it anymore, but, honestly, most of my time with her was great. She was a cherubic blonde with hippie tendencies, which means she wore a lot of hemp (and smoked a lot as well!), burned incense, doused herself in patchouli, and recycled.

Recycle?!? What the hell is THAT?? Yeah, that's pretty much where I was at that age. I remember, Erica wanted us (that's me, my friend Eric and his fiancée Sue) to get several bins to put in our kitchen, into which we could sort all manner of tin cans, crumpled up aluminum foil, glass, and a host of plastics. I was getting all into it - 'cause, that's pretty much how I roll when I'm being a serial monogamist - but Eric laughed right in her face. "Do you see this kitchen?? It's 4 feet wide and 10 feet long! Where the FUCK are we gonna put bins?!? Get outta here!!" And, just to drive his point home, he threw a McDonald's styrofoam Big Mac container directly into the trash. (Side note: Eric took such glee in being the downfall for well-intentioned consumers that when someone came through the line at McD's and wanted his Big Mac "Wrapped in paper, please!", Eric would deliberately take the pre-packaged burger OUT of its styrofoam box, throw it in the garbage, then wrap the thing in paper and hand it to the customer saying "There, now you wasted TWO pieces of trash!" He's great.)

Back on track journey from someone who didn't understand the first thing about recycling to being one of the more eco-friendly people I know was a loooooong one. Some things happened because of Miss Tessmacher: when we got our first apartment together, she made it a point to keep a (stolen) milk crate in the garbage closet for recycling. I learned what could and could not be recycled, then waited until the thing was an overflowing tower before I sorted it all out & drove the 3 miles to the recycling center. A bonus at this point was that I was selling tons of stuff on eBay, and I had all the free shipping boxes I could dumpster-dive for. Once we bought our house, things became much easier. St. Johns has EXCELLENT curbside recycling: typical big green tub, and no sorting necessary. They pick up #1 and #2 plastic, EVERY color of glass (great for us as we generate lots of green wine bottles!), all paper (including boxboard like cereal boxes & toilet paper tubes), and of course metal cans. Really, we only set out a single bag of trash every other week, we recycle so much!

Once the bug bit me, I began noticing other ways I might be friendly to the environment. This was all happening for me during the time of popularly-elected President Gore's rise to fame as the Ozone Prognositcator, and "being green" became the darling of mainstream media. I started to realize that trying to leave a minimal enviromental "footprint" on the planet isn't all that hard...but it DOES require a mindframe change. It requires a person to abandon the concept of "I'm doing this for ME" and embrace the idea that "I'm doing this for EVERYBODY". This is a hard sell for lots of folks: modern Conservatism is not about "conserving" at's about mindless consumerism, selfish worship of the "Me, me me!" ideal, and unquestioning obedience to a Jesus concept that is in direct opposition to his factual existence. True conservatism means you have to think not about the air that YOU breathe, but the air your NEIGHBOR breathes. The air you CHILDREN'S CHILDREN will breathe. I began to realize that being green was about doing what's RIGHT...something "the Right" always preaches but rarely practices.

The acceptance of eco-friendly living by the mainstream media has made purchasing green products incredibly easy. Every issue of This Old House comes to me FULL of products that are either recycled (like using shredded blue jeans for house insulation) or are less harmful to the environment (like low-VOC paints and varnishes). I discovered that an easy-care flooring is old-skool linoleum. NOT "vinyl sheeting"...the guy at Lowe's tried to tell me that they're "the same thing." They're not: vinyl is, naturally, a petrol-based product. Linoleum is - are you ready for it? - linseed oil and pulped wood. Throw away a kitchen's worth of vinyl flooring (something we did last summer) and it'll sit in a landfill for a thousand years. Throw away the same floor but made out of linoleum, and it'll simply disintegrate. Hell, you could throw it on your compost pile! Anyway, my point is, being green is pretty easy.

What makes it NOT easy's expensive. What the...?!? Why does it seem like the "better" solution is ALWAYS the more expensive one?!? If I buy 4 incandescent light bulbs, I spend around $3.50...I know they burn out more quickly, but really, I only replace a bulb maybe once a year or so. Who notices $3.50 on the grocery bill? But, if I buy 4 mini-flourescents, I spend about $24.00...a HUGE difference. Most people won't put together that the bulbs will save enough on monthly energy bills to pay for themselves in a year...and that they're then FREE for the next 4 years of life. Food is the same way: nasty-ass chicken that's been bred in captivity and sprayed with tons of chemicals is about $1.59 a pound. Organic, cage-free chicken is about $4.79. Gee...guess what most people buy?

For me, this is one of the most unfortunate results of the Conservative agenda: convincing people that they ought to be able to keep "more of their money" and then they should buy everything as cheaply as possible so that they can have more OF it. Need to fertilize your lawn? Head to the nearest Wal-Mart or Lowe's and pick up a bag of Scott's chemical-laden weed-&-feed for $8.99! Don't worry about the fact that all that shit is going to kill birds and seep into the groundwater to fuck up everybody's wells...or, run into storm drains and eventually into the Great Lakes and screw up THAT ecology. We'll come up with ways to justify our purchases and ease our conscience LATER. Just buy it CHEAP! You DESERVE IT!! This year I got online and went to Cooper Seeds and bought a 50-lb. bag of Misty Grower's organic fertilizer. It's nothing but chicken shit, and it smells like it. But...that smell is of the FARM, and even thought it was a little pungent when I opened the bag, I didn't WINCE the way I do when I get a big whiff of Scott's.

The up-front cost of being green means you're paying more out-of-pocket dollars, and people who have bought into the agenda sown by the Right have a hard time getting that idea to grow. The long-term cost of instant savings, though, will end needing to be repaid by your future family. You probably won't live to see it...maybe your kids won't either, or even THEIR kids. Somewhere down the line, though, some relative will have to pay for our selfish living "in the now." Think about those people. Then, do what you can...even if it's just a little at a time.



Blogger Mike said...

nice thought-ful post.

unfortunately, and i hate this part, the act of seperating garbage, in most places, is just an act.

Michael Moore wrote about how he followed the recycle trucks and garbage trucks from his community all go the the same landfill and dump everything into the same said landfill.

Now consider the source, as there are a few Moore haters out there.

That could be a good follow up to this post, follow your trucks one day to see how it all gets handled.

9:39 AM  
Blogger L*I*S*A said...

Somebody find me a tree.

I think I want to hug it.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Suze said...

just because michael moore followed one recycling truck to a landfill doesn't mean that such atrocities happen everywhere.when cities make recycling mandatory and go to the expense of making big ol' bins with special trucks to collect what's inside, well, that just seems like a lot of work to be dumping it all in a landfill somewhere. we must remain optimistic.

being "green" is one of the most important thing we, as individual citizens can do. that means thinking about what we take from the Earth, what we put back on it (and in it), and how it will impact future generations, not only because of the condition we leave the planet, but what we teach our children (sorry about the run-on sentence there).

as long as i'm rambling, i want to add that the decisions we make about what we eat probably have the most impact on our environmental footprint. if you've read anything michael pollan has written recently , you'll know what i mean.

i'll shut up now; i have my own blog, after all :)

6:55 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

I think the biggest hurdle to jump in having more people recycle is not to politicize the issue. What is so political about seperating your trash? If we would stop making it a voter initiative and just do it, change would be a-coming a whole lot faster. I do agree that most people are too cheap to buy green products. Hell, if it ain't cheap, it ain't worth it? Thanks for the blog food...

9:19 AM  

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