Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Rant about Green Living

I began learning about what is now called ‘green living’ twenty years ago. It took effort to learn things and to consider doing things differently that would allow me to tread more lightly on the Earth to not wreck it as much as the typical way of doing things was. I was also interested in wellness, in staying healthy and to do things to help delay aging. I was a young person working in the medical field who was around a lot of old sick people, some sick due to their lifestyle choices, and I wasn’t interested in getting sick or old anytime soon; anything I could do to get or stay healthy I wanted to do.

In order to “live green” in the 1980s, 1990s and even in the early 2000s it took thinking and a brain. It was not always easy to do the alternative ‘green living’ thing but it was do-able. Some thought me odd for doing what some think is cool or routine to do today.

I used to have to work to find information, it was not easy. In doing so much reading I would learn a tidbit that I could use. In that process of educating myself about one practical thing I could do, I would learn lots of other good information; you see I had to dig to find the practical information. Today so much shallow information is in the mainstream that it is almost ridiculous. The abundance of shallow information, usually in the form of actions in bite sized chunks, while nice to know, doesn’t lead to an education about the topic. These tips and recommendations that we see all over the place are just little orders, little mandates barked out to us.

Last year I was in a doctor’s office and picked up an Elle magazine to browse. I don’t usually read that magazine. It had a lot of references to ‘green living’ in it. I am talking about references to global warming and pollution in a magazine dedicated to fashion and makeup. It seemed that the ‘save the Earth’ message was out of synch with the content of the magazine, in an odd way. I was at a gymnastics studio and there was a Seventeen magazine in the waiting room. It was full of ‘save the Earth’ messages. A friend told me yesterday that a children’s magazine she subscribes to was full of very hateful articles about humans and said that we are killing the Earth, to the point of being scary to the kids.

I am reading a good book on ‘green living’ right now. I’m having an odd feeling as I read the book because it basically is a summary of so many things I already know, culled from my years of self-education by reading many different kinds of magazines and books. The author has distilled the information down to a bare bones listing of everything you may want to know and consider doing. Want to know the best recommendation for what container to drink liquids out of, the book tells you, and so on. That is very convenient. However lacking is the background information, it is mostly surface information that doesn’t enlighten the reader much. And a major complaint I have is that there is also no mention of helping the reader use critical thinking such as to weed out the false claims and media scares and to recognize junk science compared to well-documented and well-known information.

I have been doing many things that most Americans still do not bother to do to ‘live green’, on my own, without being shamed or guilted into doing it—I was self-motivated and doing these things ahead of the trend. I am getting a little sick of seeing ‘green living’ messages all over the place. I am talking about signs in stores, bulletin boards, all kinds of references in the media (including in advertising) and so on. What got me started on this rant today is that I was trying to subscribe to a magazine about electronics and saw green living messages on the site. Huh? Is ‘green living’ infused into every single crevice of our life now?

Reading and hearing so many commands to do this or that assumes we are not already doing these things. That is frustrating for the people doing the things already. It is like of the same feeling as the student in school who follows all the rules but has to keep hearing the teacher harp about the rules in a manner that addresses the entire class and insinuates that no one is following the rules. Those who ‘don’t get it’ are intentionally not listening and are closed-minded and still will not hear the message. My relatives who throw out all their recyclables instead of following the law are not influenced by all of these messages that we all are hearing and seeing.

I have made ’green living’ choices in my life and in our household because I want to and because I think it is a good thing to do. To be honest the more that people dictate what I should be doing the less motivated I am to do them. A feeling of rebellion is building in me and that is not good.

Possibly the worst part of this ‘green living’ thing is that it building to such a crescendo that it seems to be getting to the point of becoming a trend or a fad. The problem with that is that trends and fads build to a crescendo then die off and go away, often forever or sometimes for decades at a time. The good things about ‘green living’ will hopefully not go away, they should not go away!

I also resent the over-guilting of the individual while ignoring the larger users—the businesses. As an individual citizen, I am told things that are trying to make me feel guilty for something like me throwing away a plastic, aluminum or glass drinking container while out in public (I should be recycling it), yet local restaurants and bars do not recycle. Do you know how many beer bottles are thrown in the garbage every day by restaurants and bars? How many recyclables to grocery stores throw away? As I sit here rinsing out every food jar, every aluminum can and every piece of plastic with a #1 or #2 on it, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses that use a lot of these same items are just throwing them in the trash. The individual citizen has been shamed and guilted into doing this recycling but the larger users of plastic, glass and aluminum are not recycling. This makes no sense to me. As I try to not use plastic food wrap on my leftovers, restaurants and businesses are using a ton of plastic at an amount much higher than individual consumers. Have you noticed the plastic shrink wrap on new cars being transported by truck, or the boat storage facilities that wrap entire boats for the winter? That is a lot of plastic to use for a single use!

I resent being misled or lied to by the ‘green living’ proponents too. Some take things too far to try to convert others to doing things their way. I make my own bars of soap from natural ingredients and my own household cleaning supplies. The book I use for the recipes said that making your own soap saves materials as the product does not have to be wrapped, saving packaging. That is a false statement. When I buy the ingredients I must use to make these homemade things that distilled water, that liquid castile soap, that vegetable shortening, coconut oil and olive oil, it is all encased in packaging. Sure I am not using ‘bar soap packaging’ but I am using other packaging instead. What irritates me is some of the arguments in favor of ‘green living’ are just not true, they are exaggerations or outright falsehoods.

I am sick of the hypocrites. Someone I know who harped about the low gas mileage of Hummers now owns a Hummer. Are you kidding me? While ranting that we all should use hybrid cars, a friend buys not just a gasoline using car, but a low gas mileage SUV. The reason? She says the SUV is deemed safer than lower gas mileage cars and that the safety of her children is top priority. I’m not talking about switching to a Smart Car. I am talking about not buying an SUV in favor of a regular car, even a moderate sized car or even a family-friendly minivan, which has higher gas mileage. Someone else I know talks of reducing energy yet has made no changes in their own home such as reducing use of computers, changing to fluorescent light bulbs or any number of other simple measures that many people are doing. I am sick of hearing people espouse that our society should be doing this or that then they themselves are not even doing those things! How about starting with your own self and making changes in your life before you spend time and energy talking about or emailing about what you think others should be doing?

People are talking about drying their clothes on the clothesline outdoors. I actually have been thinking about doing this too, as the sun is a natural stain-remover and it whitens the whites too. I try to limit my use of stain removers (chemical based) as some of the ingredients are not considered healthy for human bodies. I am trying to reduce my chlorine bleach usage as there are health concerns and environmental issues with using chlorine bleach. Natural bleach substitutes which are more ‘green’ are not working very well. So I’m thinking of using a clothes line so our clothes can be exposed to the sun. Using a clothes line also of course saves electricity which also saves the consumer money.

However my house’s deed, the rules of our neighborhood prevents me from legally using an outdoor clothes line. In towns near me, the towns have actual laws banning all citizens from using clothes lines as they are deemed ugly and some claim they reduce property values. Has a study been done on that? I doubt it. Somewhere along the way in American history, clothes lines on people’s property was deemed an eyesore and a symbol of poverty or some kind of sign of a low status or low class. Thus it is against the law to do what is cheaper, better for the environment, and saves energy and fossil fuels (in my state oil is burned to produce most of the electricity we use). Where is the logic here? Frankly as a property owner and payer of high taxes I resent being told something as ridiculous as that I am banned from using a clothesline on my own property. Is this really America or some kind of police state—a state who monitors use of clothes lines? Are you kidding me?

I am sick to death of the grocery bag topic. We shop at Costco, using no packaging. We shop at Trader Joe’s and get the paper bags that they mandate that we use as they don’t let consumers use plastic bags. Our overall shopping is reduced compared to the typical American shopper as we just try to not consume so much and I don’t shop for fun or to de-stress and we are on a budget, by the way. When I have purchased a small object or a low number of objects I often will refuse to take a bag of any kind and will hand carry it out of the store. We must encase our trash in plastic bags per the refuse company’s rules. I reuse plastic grocery bags for our small trash cans as liners and then I bag up the trash into them. I have so few plastic bags that I have to rely on relatives to supply me with more.

We use the paper bags we get to recycle the newspaper in (as required by the rules in the town). I also reuse paper bags to be the exterior wrap of books and items that I ship through the mail. I also have so few of these that I take the overflow from my parents so I can use them.

If this disappoints, you—get over it---I am not going to use my already-owned cloth or nylon tote bags to get my groceries in as I need those bags. If I don’t have those plastic bags, for example, I will have to BUY new plastic bags which are sold as ‘trash bags’. I find it ludicrous to throw away or recycle plastic grocery bags yet buy new plastic trash bags made for small trash cans.

I own many tote bags, so many are freebies from various companies and conferences we’ve attended that the last thing I would do is buy those new bags that are being sold to use instead of plastic or paper store bags, you know the ones with all the ‘green living’ messages on them, those message drive me insane also, for the record. Some of the bags are made from recycled plastic bottles. Some of them are laminated with plastic—I wonder how long those will take to biodegrade? Are those actually good for the Earth? My husband has noted some other store customers using those tote bags giving him the evil eye while shopping in Trader Joe’s because he is using a regular store bag! What is this world coming to?

I need to throw in a mention of the hybrid cars. Yes a hybrid car will use less petroleum products. However did you know that they pollute the Earth more in the production stage? And that after the car is dead and needs to be trashed it has hazardous wastes in it that regular gasoline-only cars don’t have? From what I understand the hybrids are worse for the environment than regular cars. So do you want better gas mileage and to use less gasoline all the while wrecking the Earth more or do you want to pollute the Earth less and use more gasoline? It is your choice. If you choose a hybrid I just want you to know you are still negatively impacting the Earth, you are not so wonderful.

The last thing that bugs me about the current ‘green living’ trend is that it seems people are not thinking or analyzing. People are just doing those things that others guilted or scared them into thinking is true. Instead of using logic and researching something they just believe what is said. I would not put it past some unethical companies to start scaring consumers to stop using that product and instead buy their product as it is better for your health or that it will ‘save the Earth’. What will soon come is duping the American consumer with the ‘green living’ mask.

It is good to make changes for ‘green living’. However we can make the changes in a permanent manner in our lives without talking about it all the time. Making the changes is the right thing to do. We need brag about it to make sure that others can see the good we are doing as this isn’t about us looking for recognition or glory; it is just about doing a good thing. We can make the changes and serve as an example in our community without putting all kinds of bumper stickers on our cars and without judging others. We shouldn’t be shaming people or giving people dirty looks either, for something as little as choosing to use a plastic grocery bag so that we can reuse it as a trash bag. It is better to lead by example than to bark orders like an army sergeant, especially when the troops have not even enrolled into service. Let’s remember that we “can catch more flies with honey than vinegar”.

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Sandy said...

hi i was browsing around the net and saw that you enjoyed "Reds sails to capri" as much as i did in the post "Thoughts About "Red Sails to Capri" by Ann Weil" Can you plz suggest me some other books similar to that. i will be really thankful to you.

Green Darner said...

Wow, you city people sure have a lot of rules.

Apparently, I've been "living green" for most of my life and didn't know it. We just called it "living poor". LOL!!