Friday, April 20, 2007

Green Is The New Black

As Earth Day 2007 approaches, it just takes one glance at the "lifestyles" section of the periodicals rack to show you that Global Warming is Hot, Hot, Hot!

Like a lot of you, I've been searching for ways to reduce my own carbon footprint without it becoming more of a hassle than I'm inclined to put up with. For example: the "18 seconds to change a light bulb" thing is a bit misleading. In order for me to switch to non-incandescent bulbs in our home fixtures, we would have to switch out every single hard-wired fixture in our home. So, I'm not sure how environmentally responsible that actually works out to be. I still don't like fluorescents and LEDs are too expensive and kinda worthless for task lighting. I hope that new, affordable solutions come on the market, while I'm trying to save up enough money to remodel.

There are actually two Earth Days. The United Nations observes one on the vernal equinox. Here in the US, we've been observing Earth Day on April 22nd, since 1970, although local observances seem to vary widely. So, if you've been confused about what Earth Day is or what it's about I'm not surprised.

In the late 80s and early 90s, talk about environmental issues always ended up being about recycled paper and soda bottles. The biggest concern seemed to be that our municipal landfills were beyond capacity but the discussion rarely moved beyond that point. And, while our cars became more fuel-efficient and less polluting, the American buying public switched from automobiles to SUVs and light trucks that were not held to the same standards.

The thing that's the most troubling to me is that we've been "observing" Earth Day for 37 years and we just keep making things worse. We got the Clean Air Act passed but manufacturing shifted to other places where there were no such restrictions. We got more efficient and less polluting cars but we stopped buying them and bought less-regulated vehicles instead. At virtually every step we keep circumventing any attempt made toward environmental responsibility.

We have an Environmental Stewardship Committee at my church - I think there's one at virtually every congregation. Usually their activities are focused around making sure that the church parking lot is permeable, that no rice is thrown after weddings and that there aren't any Styrofoam cups at the after-service coffee. The one at my church has been inserting helpful tips in the weekly bulletins and in the monthly newsletters - both the recyclable paper and the paper-free versions. Our rector asked all member households to reduce carbon usage during Lent and to keep track of all of the minor changes. He's going to announce the cumulative results of this exercise on Sunday, to show just how those small behavioral changes add up.

But,it's hard to take this process one step at a time. In the early days, the talk in the environmental movement was all about pollution. Last time around, it was all about waste management. Now, the attention is on becoming "carbon neutral": reduce what you can and offset what you can't. But, does this slow, step by step approach match the speed with which the environmental problems progress? Can this be addressed piecemeal or do we need a comprehensive approach?

Are we wrong for trying to promote more environmentally responsible options to the US buying public? No. Are we wrong to be pushing to make "green" trendy? Maybe. Do I have a better idea? Not really.

My concern is that, without a cognitive shift and a comprehensive approach, most people who go fashionably "green" will just as easily abandon environmental concerns when the next trend comes along.

I'm not saying that it isn't a good idea to change out a light bulb and turn off your computer at night. I'm not saying that recycling isn't worth the effort. And, I'm not saying that there's anything substantially wrong with increasing overall environmental awareness.

But, I am saying that the current trendiness of the topic makes it just as likely that the environment will end up on the next IN/OUT trends list.

So, let's take advantage of this increase in popular interest to make real strides and formulate comprehensive strategies to make continual improvements.