Saturday, March 01, 2008

Top 10 things I hate about "Green"

A lot of the things I do are environmentally friendly. I believe in being responsible with resources, from personal resources like money to common resources like the air we all breathe. I believe in stewardship, and I believe in taking care of things. That said, I am not an environmentalist. I don't hurt for the Earth. I don't go out of my way to do things on the sole basis that it will save the planet.

You can be green without falling into the "Green Consumerism" trap. Here are 10 things that irk me.

10. Specialty Organic-Food markets. Mostly, I despise the culture that surrounds these overprices places, but they tug at the heart-strings of people who want to exude smug greenness in their lives.

Farmer's markets and even large grocery stores often sell organic foods at more reasonable prices.

9. Carbon Credits and Carbon Offsets. Because money trumps responsibility.

I think it goes without saying that many corporations could do better to reduce their environmental impact on their own.

8. Ethanol made from corn. Seriously, folks. What are you thinking? When food and fuel compete, everyone loses.

In places like Brazil where more efficient (and less readily edible) plants such as sugar cane exists for making ethanol, it's not a bad thing. Here in the US, ethanol from switchgrass might be one answer. Walking or riding a bike for even part of those really short trips you make sounds like a much better idea.

7. Epic "Greeninating" projects. Tearing apart a building to re-do all of the insulation, windows, and HVAC systems to "go green" might be good for a tax credit, but it takes a lot of resources to move all those awesome, efficient construction materials. Then, what happens with all the construction waste?

Efficient building materials are expensive, but often worth the investment when building a new structure.

6. Sending hundreds of pounds of appliances to the landfill in the name of "Green." Replacing all of your 5-year-old stuff with shiny, new eco-friendly gear is a great way to make the company you keep "Green" with envy, but it's also irony defined.

Again, simple things like turning off lights, taking shorter showers, adjusting the thermostat on your water heater and climate control system at home will go a long way. Much like choosing efficient building materials, choosing efficient appliances as part of a new home isn't a bad idea.

5. Buying smugness at the cash register with re-usable "Green" (sometimes in color, always in marketing) canvas bags sold by grocery stores. The ones I saw at Hy-Vee were made in China. Assuming they weren't made in a sweat-shop by children who crank these out for a wage of pennies per day, there's still a great amount of irony in the amount of resources that were used simply to get these modern marvels of environmental friendliness into stores here in the US.

Instead, take your own backpacks or duffel bags along. Personally, I load up my panniers. On a side note, you could get bonus points for getting things from farmers' markets and buy things that were driven from halfway across the state instead of being shipped halfway around the world.

4. Hybrid gas-electric vehicles. More than 100 pounds of toxic, difficult-to-recycle battery materials go into each one. Much like "Green" appliances, at the end of the day it's just one more car on the road in addition to the (not Green) one you probably sold or gave to your kid. Those are just two of the many problems with hybrids.

In the long run, small cars powered by low-displacement gasoline or turbodiesel engines will save more money. Technology has come a long way, and many of these cars burn just as clean as a hybrid.

3. Plug-in hybrids and electric-only vehicles. These are not a panacea -- in fact, they're a less viable solution than traditional gas-electric hybrids. You see, the US still gets most of its electricity from coal-fired power plants. Most vehicles that leech from the power grid are essentially coal-burning vehicles. Once you figure the inefficiency of power transmission to the home, charging circuitry and electricity storage in the vehicle itself, it stops looking so sweet.

I could nod my head to EVs getting their daily fix from a solar or wind power source, though.

2. Guilt. Pack your bags; We're going on a guilt trip in a new GMC Yukon Hybrid! No one likes a guilt-tripper, and given the irony of some of the above points, it should come as no surprise that it's hard to be taken seriously when you're puffing your chest out while causing more harm than good with your Green antics.

Leading by example and encouraging others to make small, simple changes is a much better way to get the message across.

1. Consumerism. This sums up a lot of the previously mentioned items.

Until "Green" actually becomes more about conservation or simplicity and less about how much new stuff you can buy (and how much old, inefficient stuff you can send to the landfill) you'll have a hard time convincing me that the Green movement is about the green rainforests instead of the green-lined pockets.


Sirrus Rider said...

The problem with Ethanol from corn is for every one gallon of ethanol produced it takes two gallons of petroleum.. Not only that but it means there is less means of production for food crops. In short it's no solution either, but a feel good for Green-niks and politicians.

Frogman said...

Noah speaks volumes if insightful stuff. This is another chapter of it. Isn't it amazing that many of the famous proponents of Green living and its other forms are simply mouth pieces for moving money.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if Ethanol from corn is good for society as a whole, but it has certainly been good for our neighbors in farming communities in the midwest. Rising corn prices have allowed farmers to pay off some of their frightfully expensive machinery, and has injected some much-needed cash into rural and small-town economies. Frankly, after decades or more of very lean times, they were due for some good fortune.

Noah said...

For what you get from corn, though, it's an awful lot of work, fuel, and water used (and in my opinion, wasted) in the name of energy. On our home turf, switchgrass would probably be a better bet. It grows almost anywhere, requires less maintenance and water, and is easier to harvest than corn.

Much of the cash flow those farmers are getting is government subsidy as well, which means it's not only sapping food from our bellies and water from our canals, but money from our tax-burdened wallets as well. There has to be a better way.

Farmers prospering for a change is a great thing. Farmers prospering at the expense of our water resources, the environment and our society doesn't seem like such a good deal to me, though.

Smudgemo said...

I mostly agree except for the #10 statement, "Specialty Organic-Food markets. Mostly, I despise the culture that surrounds these overprices places, but they tug at the heart-strings of people who want to exude smug greenness in their lives."

First of all, the way I see it, supporting the little guy is a good thing unless all we want is Safeway and Lucky (or whatever the biggies are in any particular area.) Second, if people are supporting specialty shops in spite of higher prices, it means that they are ready for a change and may be ripe for even more progressive ideas.

On the flip side, I agree about hybrids except I'll go further and say that it's flat-out stupid to buy one if you have any idea of what goes into the battery manufacturing process. And the very idea of a hybrid Yukon boggles my mind, never mind actually building it...

Noah said...

Devil's Advocate speaking for a moment:

Did you call Whole Foods / Wild Oats "the little guy"???!?!


Notice I suggested farmers markets as one place to get your organic fix while ACTUALLY making a tangible difference. And those really are "the little guy"


"... if people are supporting specialty shops in spite of higher prices, it means that they are ready for a change and may be ripe for even more progressive ideas."

Not to burst your bubble, but couldn't the same be said about people who are spending too much money on hybrid cars? Just asking.

Sirrus Rider said...

One other thing I have a problem listening to people like Al "Full or Green House Gas" Gore who lives in a house that can hold four of mine and uses more electricity in one month than I do in one year and keeps telling me I I have to make do with less.

What sort of crack is this jackass smoking? The message he's conveying is that we (the little guy, the great unwashed) have to give up more so that he can continue to live like some perfumed prince.

Anonymous said...

You do sound pretty irritated about "green", don't you?

We all do things for more than one reason at a time -- ignorance, smugness, concern, confusion, hopefulness, etc. I see some of that same combination of factors among those using cloth bags for their groceries as I do among those mocking the people who use cloth bags for their groceries; that same combination among those who buy gas-electric hybrids as among those who laugh at the people who buy gas-electric hybrids. In other words, I think that there's a risk of exactly the same kind of smugness among those who declare that "they are not an environmentalist" as there is among those who declare that they are.

What I take away from your posting as a constructive point is, first of all, to view one's commitments in a more holistic way rather than as a series of "good deeds" on a list to be checked off ("Canvas bags, check; compact fluorescent bulbs, check; Ford Escape hybrid, check; cloth diapers, check"). But also, and maybe more depressing, is the point that in an economic system like this one, almost every commitment that a person can express, will eventually be turned into just another way of being a "consumer". We all know that well enough about bicycling, for example! Avoiding that trap is not as easy as you make it sound...

Noah said...

There's no doubt about it. Any time you see "hate" (as in Top 10 things I hate about "Green"), the bigotry it about to come on strong.

Smugness is self-satisfaction and self-righteousness, whether warranted or not. I do know one thing for certain: No one has it all figured out yet. We don't even know if we should be concerned about global warming from greenhouse gases or another miniature ice-age from the Sun's lack of usual activity lately. We don't know if, after we put all this effort into getting our atmosphere stabilized, we'll have our planet shredded to pieces by a huge comet or global thermonuclear war.

My beef isn't with cloth grocery bags. It's with how the ones made in and shipped from China on huge, inefficient boats are being marketed as "Green"

My beef isn't with hybrid gas-electric vehicles. Let's face it, many of them are much better than the other single-occupant behemoths I see on a daily basis. It's the deceptive tactics used to tell them, the elitism of many people who own them that think they are getting around with as little impact on the environment as possible while they start their little hybrid engine and drive 3 blocks to a coffee shop instead of walking.

I don't mind efficient building materials and appliances. I think it's ironic to clog landfills with waste and go through a lot of construction and renovations when the same amount of environmental impact can be had by making a few simple lifestyle changes.

Also, to the point of bicycling consumerism: You have it pretty much nailed. Even I fell into the "new bike" trap back in May. I don't regret it, either, but I could have likely rescued a nice, used bike instead.

That said, I still wish I could see more bike shops selling or at least showing off used bikes that already have utility and commuting modifications made such as racks, lights, a U-Lock and fenders as part of the complete package, ready to roll off of the showroom and around town.

From the outside (that's me) looking in at the things going on in the so-called "Green movement", what I see APPEARS to be a great many people who are more concerned with doing highly visible things that can be construed as being environmentally friendly to gain acceptance or kudos among their peers. That's part of the problem. It's easy to look green without being green if you spend enough cash.

Often, it's the little things that are hard for others to see that have the most impact. To that point, many of the people who are doing these highly visible things might also be making a huge difference personally behind the scenes. It would be hard for anyone to prove otherwise.

Smudgemo said...

My apologies if I wrote something offensive. I thought I was mostly agreeing with you.

First, I never wrote anything about Whole Foods or Wild Oats being the little guy, and unless a link disappeared, neither did you. I was actually thinking of small specialty grocers, but even so, WF does claim to buy in-season local produce which supports local farmers. In fact, if you watch "The Past, Present, and Future of Food" presented by the CEO of WF, you might rethink your definition of what is a reasonable cost for food.

Second, I just stated that hybrids are stupid, not that people aren't trying to be progressive. So to answer your question, yes.

Noah said...

No offense was taken, I was simply conversing.

when I said specialty stores, I was thinking WF and WO. Because those are THE specialty food stores around here. That's all we've got for that niche market as far as I know. I don't exactly go hunting for organic food, though, so I could easily be missing the "real" little guy.

Talking to Fritz, (, I guess the so-called "real" environmentalists call most of the stuff I'm bewailing "greenwashing"

It makes sense, because for any group, you're likely to stereotype that group with the most easily spotted (and usually most annoying or boisterous) members of that group.

Anonymous said...

My little green bags came over on the boat that brought your i-pod nano too. But I saved 6 plastic bags from being used today. And someone has to pay those kids more for working.

Da' Square Wheelman, said...

Well said, Noah. A year ago I became the director of a youth-based enviro org. I'd never given green stuff much thought before that although I've been car-free for the last several years. One thing I've noticed is the utter lack of humility on the part of many greenwashers when it mystifies them that there are other folks who can't afford the time nor the money to Go Green.

Anonymous said...

Phooie on going green i cant afford those stupid compct florecents and that organic food is also too expensive and darn if im going to ride 30 miles on a bicycle with a load of mechedise from WAL-MART so screw the greens

Erin said...

Wow, I can see I'm a little late with my comment but I just wanted you to know that I proudly PRINTED this out and posted it in my office. Great post! I stumbled across your blog while looking for some common sense answers to the ridiculousness of the green movement. My daycare provider informed me today that my rate is going to climb a $100 a month so that she can go green. She wants to switch to cloth diapers (does she have any idea how much energy she will be wasting to wash them 2-3 times every day??) and we can no longer send him with his favorite foods because they could be wrapped in WRAPPERS and could lead to littering! Seriously, the green movement can kiss my ass. Thanks!

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