Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Is there a Green Factoids philosophy?

Fear and guilt cloud thinking. Arguably, much of our anxiety about global warming reflects guilt over our consumption, guilt which grows out of any decision we make to gratify some desire instead of virtuously going without—not different in kind from the dieter’s guilt over a box of glazed donuts. The fact that our anxiety over climate damage (or donuts) is justified exacerbates the psychological dynamic without necessarily producing anything like clarity on what we should be doing to “help.” The multiplying lists of ‘things we can do to save the planet’ rarely state clearly the relative impact of any of the changes, even as they implicitly suggest that refusing to take these actions aligns one with strip miners, whalers, and makers of dioxin.

Those who have been pregnant may recognize this mind-set. It’s the one epitomized by the “What To Expect” books, which redefine maternal virtue as avoiding every product or activity that carries even a theoretical risk, since “you never know.” The orientation is moral rather than scientific: as a good mother shouldn’t you be willing to give up sushi, coffee, diet coke, highlights, and whatever else, to protect your baby? The frame itself is a set-up: the only other alternative is that you are not willing to make sacrifices for the good of your unborn child. The actual, documented risk of any of these activities is easily trumped by its “possible risk,” which can and need never be refuted. These multiplying rules (can I eat chocolate? get a manicure? microwave in plastic?) are of course impossible to remember for the average dysfunctional person, so they offer wide latitude for righteous superiority from those willing to research the ingredients in baby wipes.

This mindset, arguably, has found a perfect home in the “green living” movement, offering virtually limitless scope for little rules, now framed as “choices,” with the added benefit of having the whole planet rather than one baby as its focus, and all of eternity rather than nine months as its time frame.

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices cuts through the moralizing clutter with the simple observation that some activities and choices have a much greater impact than others. Just as there is a difference between the effect of smoking crack and that of drinking coffee on an unborn child, there is a difference between the effect of commuting 60 miles a day to your job (whatever the car) and that of using plastic grocery bags. It is thus extremely helpful to have actual numbers on the impact of each of these green moves. By all means, change the sleep function of your computer to save 250 pounds of emissions in one year, as long as you keep in mind that it amounts to less than that produced by one week’s driving.

Here at Green Factoids, we do not believe that guilt or fear are secure foundations for adopting a green lifestyle, any more than they are for a successful diet. Rather, we strive for a spirit of curious inquiry into the ways we can adapt our lifestyles to lessen the harm to the environment. Our main goal is to search out and eliminate pockets of waste, that is, time, money and resources we spend which bring no value to our lives. Success stamping out true waste creates a surge of satisfaction and energy and motivates us to search for more ways to save.