05 July 2007

I'd like to think I'm more of a 'chartreuse.'

Reason Hit & Run gives a pointer to this article from the New York Times covering the 'light green' movement, middle- and upperclass shoppers who have transformed green consumerism from weird, hippie stuff into luxury status symbol. The article is filled with quotable soundbites, but here's my favorite, from environmentalist blogger Chip Giller:

“Over even the last couple of months, there is more concern growing within the traditional camp about the Cosmo-izing of the green movement — ‘55 great ways to look eco-sexy,’ ” he said. “Among traditional greens, there is concern that too much of the population thinks there’s an easy way out.”

I understand the concern being expressed in the article, at least insofar as it reflects a genuine worry that people will buy more and more stuff because it's eco-friendly, the way that some people eat more and more cookies because they're fat-free and thus 'healthy.' Buying more and more stuff, even if it's 'healthy' by comparison, can't be part of an overall plan to reduce waste and energy costs.

But in reality, buying green does make a difference (a very small one) and is often the beginning of a lifestyle transformation, so one would think that its increasing trendiness should be celebrated by all as a promising start. I get the impression here that the real gripe among hard-core environmentalists is that they don't want to lose their unique status. In many social circles, the movement created a 'green chic' for those who were insightful and educated enough to adopt early; these people do NOT want to be lumped in with the next-wave imitators.

Giller also mentions the 'culture of self-abnegation' that goes along with traditional environmentalism -- for this branch of the movement, if it doesn't hurt, you're not doing it right. If you've sacrificed a lot in the belief that it was required by environmental consciousness, you might very well want to exclude from the movement those who buy their way in via a $104,000 Lexus hybrid. What's going to be very frustrating for this latter group of 'give-till-it-hurts' environmentalists: the way of the future will almost certainly be ecologically responsible consumption without any appreciable decline in the standard of living we've come to know and love. Changes, yes, but barring a major environmental disaster, probably not of the belt-tightening, self-denying type glorified by the early green movement; most Americans will, in fact, get to take the 'easy way out': shifting gradually to an eco-friendly lifestyle as it becomes cheaper, simpler, and trendier to do so.