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Q. Dear Umbra,

I’m a single gal, living in Seattle, where one would think it might be easy to meet a socially and environmentally conscious, yet non-douchey fellow, but it’s actually really difficult to find any suitable guy to go out with. It’s like if I meet a dude who cares about decreasing his carbon footprint, then he’s also a d-bag that irately lectures everyone around him about what they’re doing wrong. Where, oh where, dear Umbra, might I meet a nice, funny, decent guy who cares about living a green-lit lifestyle but won’t chide me for eating a steak, say, three times a year or driving somewhere it would take me two hours and three transfers to get by bus?

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Single and Ready to Mingle

A. Dearest Single,

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flamingo loveBy “single gal, living in Seattle,” did you really mean “single guy, living in LA, who also happened to be on a recent episode of the ridiculousness known as The Millionaire Matchmaker“? I was forced to watch this show in the name of research, for yours is not the only dating conundrum I’ve received of late. And in the recent ep, this — for a lack of a better word — douchey guy who owned an eco-clothing company told his also eco-minded date that he (the date) shouldn’t order steak because it came from red animals. Which are bad for the environment. Um. Yeah.

Admittedly, I haven’t been on the dating scene for awhile, but I totally feel your plight. It always seems sort of miraculous to me that anyone winds up together — I mean, really, what are the odds of meeting someone and him/her liking you the same way you like him/her at the same time? And unfortunately, there are always going to be d-bags out there, green or not. I suppose it’s no wonder, though, that being eco-aware is now on the list of date must-haves. And luckily, the dating scene seems to be keeping  up with the times, as there’s a whole crop of green dating sites out now. I can’t vouch for any of them in particular, as a spoken-for lady, but it can’t hurt to give them a click: Earth Wise Singles, Green Passions, Green Singles, and Planet Earth Singles, among others. In fact, if you really want to cut down that carbon footprint, you could exclusively date online, never actually meeting the person in real life. Sure, your relationship may not be as rich or fulfilling, but you’ll cut way down on transportation emissions and there’ll be zero chance of procreation.

If online dating’s not your thing, try hanging out around the organic produce at your favorite local food co-op. When you see a hot tamale carrying some grass-fed steaks in one hand and a reusable cup of fair-trade coffee in the other, clumsily drop an apple on his foot “by accident” (note: You’ll probably have to buy the apple). Pending that he doesn’t spill his coffee (note: If he does, you’ll probably also have to buy him some more coffee), it’ll be a good excuse to strike up a conversation.

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You know, I actually saw an ad yesterday that said, “Go Green, Date Your Neighbor.” I have no idea what it was supposed to be advertising, but it’s not a bad idea. Is your neighbor single? If not, perhaps try to find love within a 10-mile radius of where you live, preferably accessible by bike, foot, or bus. A friend who may or may not also work for Grist made the mistake of falling for someone a plane ride away. Thusly, their collective carbon footprint stretches from Seattle to Detroit.

You could also meet peeps by going back to school to get that MBA in sustainable business you’ve been pondering, volunteering for a favorite cause, or hitting up a local Greendrinks event. The point is that you really can meet people anywhere — it sounds a touch trite, I know. It’s just about having the gumption to actually chat these people up, ask them out, and then being open to whatever happens.

And if there are any eco-minded, non-douchey dudes out there who want to give things a try with Single, shoot me an email and I’ll see what I can do about making a love connection.

Chuck Woolery-ly,

Q. Dear Umbra,

Have you pointed out to your readers which individual-level decisions matter a great deal, and which do not?

People can spend a lot of time and money sweating the small stuff, or they can take a few simple steps that will dramatically reduce their environmental footprint.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has done some research on this, I understand. So which ones should we focus on, and which are nice to have?

Yours truly,

A. Dearest Dave,

I have an avalanche of small-stuff questions crowding my inbox (see Tom L.’s query below, par exemple). And I actually feel like many of the peeps that are faced with these vexing (to them) micro-dilemmas totally get that it’s small stuff in the scheme of the environmental issues we collectively face. And I do indeed try to temper the guilt people often inflict upon themselves for falling prey to these little things like using a tissue instead of a hanky or how to recycle a toothpick.

I addressed this question a few years ago, and a lot of the information still rings true. My answer relied on the Union of Concerned Scientists’ excellent book, The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices. Being scientists, the authors studied the answer to your question with utter thoroughness, developed elaborate ways to calculate the effects an individual has on the environment, picked out the most fruitful possibilities for effective change, and presented opinionated answers in this informative book.

However, now more than ever, the truly important individual-level decision is to stop looking at things on an individual level. In other words, band together, get your neighbors involved, your friends, your co-workers. Not only is there safety in numbers, but there’s also immense opportunity to effect real change. Bothered that your building doesn’t compost? Don’t just opt to get a little automatic composter for yourself; hit up your neighbors, talk to your landlord, get the whole building on board. Irked about a power plant moving into your ‘hood? I’ll bet you’re not the only one. Find out who else is and team up. Don’t just be satisfied with changing things within your own four walls. I think that’s the best decision you can make as an individual.

Get on the bus-ly,

Q. Dear Umbra,

I’m a coffee hound and daily buy a cup at the local store. Trying to be good, I use a stainless mug. But after adding milk and sugar, they always have a plastic swizzle stick to stir it. I secretly shake the plastic straw or paddle and replace it in the cup, rather than add its tiny addition to the waste stream. I don’t lick it! Am I contributing to the public good, or am I a Typhoid Mary in the making?

Tom L.
Ashfield, Mass.

A. Dearest Tom,

Use a spoon. Please.