This weekend, The New York Times Magazine ran as its cover story an article entitled “Why Isn’t the Brain Green?” (i.e. why humans don’t generally make environmental choices automatically, even though it’s good for us in the long term). And a front page Monday story in The Washington Post, chronicled how “going green” could lead to discord in families as, for example, one spouse wanted the heat on and another wanted to shiver for the planet.
“You’re kind of in a perpetual state of feeling like you’re not measuring up,” said Janet Tupper, 50, of Cheverly, who is still happily married to her environmentalist husband. Because of his convictions, they layer up indoors during the winter: The house’s heat usually comes from a single stove burning wood pellets. “I’m behind it. I’m supportive. I wish, you know — I wish it was easier,” Tupper said. “Our kids complain about us living like the Amish.”
I wish this article had included an important point: it’s only hard for individuals to be green because our society remains so un-green. Turning on a lightswitch shouldn’t be a source of agony – it should come from solar electricity made possible by government support and strict limits on polluting fuels. Consumers shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not the fish they buy that the supermarket is endangered or not – supermarkets and restaurants shouldn’t be allowed to serve endangered fish like red snapper and bluefin. And we shouldn’t have to squint at ingredients labels to find out if our cookies contain rainforest-destroyers like palm oil: it should be banned from import. That’s why the greenest thing anyone can do – better even than not flushing – is to organize their communities to demand that their elected officials and corporate leaders make our society go green – so that it becomes automatic for the rest of us.