Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I’ve been having this strangely disorienting feeling about the “green movement” lately. Or, I guess more precisely, about where I am in life, and how this movement makes me feel.

I am 50 years old. (I still react like an alcoholic standing in front of the AA meeting every time I say that so bluntly. Take a deep breath and lay it out there, and then smile a little at the realization it’s OK to say!) When I was in the seventh grade, which would have been about 1972, I had a social studies teacher named Miss Sigfreid who made a big impression on me. She taught about ecology and the interdependence of everything on earth. She taught zero population growth. (I still don’t quite know how she got away with that in a public school!) She taught us to recycle and really imbedded in me the idea that taking care of the planet is just what the good guys do.

Over the years that message was reinforced in other places, and it really took root. I’m sure it didn’t hurt any that the energy crisis occurred during my senior year in high school, disrupting classes because they couldn’t heat our building. I remember learning about alternate energy sources in college, and forming the opinion around that same time that gas-guzzling cars were just icky. So as an adult, all that was always a part of my psyche. Even in the 1980’s and 1990’s, when the economy was booming and energy was cheap and everyone in America except me, it seemed, fell in love with the SUV, that whole recycle-reuse-conserve consciousness was part of who I was.

Now, I was never flashy about it. You would have had to actually watch us to realize things were different at our house. My husband and I needed two bins to put out our recycling each week while most of our neighbors didn’t fill the one that they were provided, while our garbage can was half empty until neighbors would fill it with their overflow on collection night. We never owned an SUV or even a mini-van, and I tried to buy a hybrid in 2003 when I bought my most recent vehicle, though in the end I just couldn’t quite afford it. (I was coming off a car lease, so waiting while I saved a little more wasn’t an option.) We were using compact fluorescent light bulbs in our home years before the government decided to ruin a good idea by mandating it, and I wouldn’t know how to act in a house that was warmer than 65° overnight. We installed a programmable thermostat as soon as they became affordable and stopped heating our home much through the day when we were at work, too. And we run our air conditioner less than anyone in the neighborhood in the summer! It’s got to be pretty sticky before we turn it on. Day-in, day-out, lunches were carried in washable lunch boxes, gift boxes and bags were reused again and again…well, you get the idea.

And yeah, I did feel a wee bit smug about it. I’m entitled, aren’t I? After all, I wasn’t going to get any OTHER reward, so I might as well bask in a little self-satisfaction. It’s gratifying to do the right thing, and why not enjoy a little glow about it?

But today, I feel like I’ve been robbed of that reward. Suddenly it’s cool to be “green,” and I feel so unappreciated for my 35 or so years of good effort and commitment. The level of effort I put in during those long, lonely years when people mostly thought I was just odd is now merely the baseline. I mean, people are by-and-large embarrassed to do less than the things I’ve mentioned. The government is mandating the use of compact fluorescent bulbs even in places where they may not make sense; even those who love gas guzzling SUV’s are dumping them because gas prices went up to $4 a gallon last summer and we all know they will go there again. Programmable thermostats are commonplace, most of the neighbors now fill two bins of recycling, and reusable lunch boxes are more common than brown bags.

All those are really, really good things. I hate to sound like a whiner when talking about things that indicate our society is improving. There’s just this little, tiny voice in my head that says, “Hey, would it kill ‘em to give me an attagirl? A little tip of the hat to those of us who stayed faithful and slogged through the long years when ecology wasn’t cool?”

Sigh. I guess I have to let it go. And I have to let go of the umbrage I feel when I hear some of the more extreme “greenies” suggesting changes that are – well – extreme. (I’m pretty sure we should still bring babies into the world in spite of their carbon footprint, for example.) But hey, I’m 50 years old. The way I figure it, that means my life is probably around 60% over. Surely that buys me the right to be a little curmudgeonly, right?


Shannon said...

Funny, I've been having similar thoughts lately. Sort of like Jonah, don't ya think? He goes to tell God's message to the Ninehvites, they actually listen and repent, and the Big Guy decides not to bring down his wrath. So old Jonah's like, wait a second; don't they deserve a little bit of wrath? Yeah literally I was just in the last hour or two thinking the same things: that I was (am still) proud of my garden, but now everybody has a garden! And how I was washing my bread bags and foil before it was cool to do that stuff, now I'm just like everybody else, lol. Who is it that said "you can never be unique but you can always be authentic"? The radicals need to take a lesson and stop telling people they can't have babies or live in the burbs or should be using one square of toilet paper (ahem, Sheryl Crow)and just worry about greening up their own patch of dirt, you know? I think that's the thing that rankles me is the using the environmental stuff to preach at people, as well as a vehicle for imposing government regulations, which draws my ire more than any of the rest of it. I think like everything else it all gets politicized erroneously. Some brands of "education" just come off as smug finger wagging.

BTW doesn't it feel like the 70's all over again? Well, as good as I can remember it anyway, ha ha!

Susan said...

You want to hear something funny? I didn't even consciously think about the fact that today is Earth Day when I posted this yesterday. Made it timely without even realizing it!

I really like that quote about not being unique but being authentic.
And I agree about how some efforts at "education" just sound like finger wagging. There was a commercial on TV for one of the less successful American attempts at a hybrid vehicle that I used to like. It had a dad dropping off a teenager and she didn't want to be seen getting out of the car because this crowd all "drives hybrids and stuff like that." Dad informed her that this WAS a hybrid, and she asked why he never said anything about it. Dad's reply, "I didn't think I had to talk about it, just do it." That is exactly how I feel.