Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Going Green

In honor of Saint Patrick's Day (but not before suggesting that you read some glorious Irish poetry by William Butler Yeats instead of drinking green beer this year), I want to write about the other way that people take pride in all things green: the huge popularity of the "green living" movement in the United States. 

I'm all in favor of reducing pollution and environmental toxins by supporting local farmers and organic foods, using nontoxic household cleaners, and eliminating the use of plastic shopping bags in stores (as San Francisco legislated a while ago). Organic cotton baby clothes? Sustainable bamboo flooring? Bring it on!

I have my favorite green sites, like the lovely, soothing Low Impact Living. But I don't think this trend goes very deep for most people, and sometimes it rings false to me as well.

Consuming less, not buying more, can truly help the environment by, among other things, decreasing the (fossil fuel) energy demands of producing and shipping products, and decreasing the amount of things that end up in a landfill (if you feel guilty about tossing old things out, check out Freecycle). Much harder than buying is getting rid of things, and making space (literal and figurative) for what really matters in life: health, family, friendships, adventures.

The green movement is both an ideology and a marketing tool for new products (if it's "green," it sells).  To a degree, buying green can help you live a healthier life as well. But it's important that consumers don't bury their sense of public responsibility under a mound of green products. Because no matter how many bottles of Method nontoxic cleaners I might buy, my choices won't outweigh the public health benefits of one new worker safety rule by OSHA, or an increase in the number of food inspectors employed in a state.