Posted by: Kate | March 7, 2008

Green: The Color of Guilt

I don’t do trends well. I don’t go to movie theaters or plays, because I’m hard of hearing and I live in the middle of nowhere New Hampshire, so most of my culture comes from the big black box in the living room. I don’t dress in the latest fashions, because the closest I’ve come to a size-2 is a size-12. When I find a new thing, whether it’s a food or an outfit or a habit, that catches my attention, then I’ll give it somewhere between a moment’s and a lifetime’s worth of attention, and I either adopt it as my own or blithely resist change.

But even I’m aware of the cool new trend: Being earth-friendly. Environmentally correct. Green.

It’s everywhere, lately. Almost as pervasive as the little pink breast-cancer ribbons, which adorn everything from socks to salsa and have almost overpermeated the culture. Bless their hearts, those Susan G. Komen people, they have connections and used them well, but the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt” applies to logos as much as it does to boyfriends.

But this green thing, it’s not a logo or a single specific call for money, action or pinholes in t-shirts. It’s a mindset, sometimes even a lifestyle, and most people derive some small amount of pride when they find a new way to save a little gas, lessen their electricity use, reduce consumption in some way.

Like all diversions, there are people who enjoy it in moderation and people who take it to the extreme. For every SUV-driving, oil-burning, non-recycling, plastic-packaged consumer, there is a tree-hugging, non-flushing, granola-by-candlelight hippie trying to make a smaller carbon footprint upon the forehead of the Goddess Earth.

In most hobbies, there’s a self-satisfaction when it goes well, and an ability to recognize that perhaps not everyone shares the same priorities. “To each his own,” we think, even if a tiny dark private corner of our soul is baffled that not every person on the planet shares our fascination for knitting/hockey/woodworking/insects/serial killers. With the green thing, the environmentally conscious lifestyle, that self-enjoyment can quickly start to ooze over into a sense of outrage and resentment toward those who don’t share the cause. We end up with extremists, who have turned their hobby into a cause.

The same could be said for anything else, I suppose. Somewhere out there is someone who personally knitted every single article of clothing that they wear, has not spoken a sentence without the word “baseball” in it for the past fifteen years, or runs in line at the grocery store just to keep the heart rate up. Things can go too far.

The difference, to me, is the number of people I know of who suffer from a sort of Green Guilt. They’re not as environmentally friendly as they want to be, or think they should be. They agonize over their vehicle’s gas mileage and refuse to take long-distance family vacations because of the jet fuel. They wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat because they realize they’ve left the bathroom light on and wasted electricity. They waffle between grossed-out and angst-filled at the balance between flushing the toilet and saving a few extra gallons of water. It becomes a mental weight, a greasy, oil-slicked albatross draped around their shoulders.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for that good feeling of virtue that comes with replacing paper towel with cloth napkins and turning off the water until I’m done brushing my teeth. My mother went through a phase of making her own soap, so I’ve dabbled a bit beyond the average experience, too. But I refuse to allow myself to feel guilty for the missed opportunities, and I try to find a balance between a reasonable ecological lifestyle and an emotionally balanced one. If living off the grid and using a solar-powered shower makes you feel good, congratulations and more power to you, but I’m going to DisneyWorld.


  1. All things in moderation, right? I would like to be more “green”, for sure, but I find it difficult to find every day ways to make significant change. I stopped shopping at Wal Mart, but I can’t seem to shake the Target experience, no matter how hard I try. And I am a girl who loves her Home Depot. Have fun at Disney, no guit attached!

  2. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Everyone tries to guilt you into not doing the things you’ve got planned because it’s not ‘green’. There was a thread on the rav about how to get your dyed stuf fluffy again; one person suggested a fan, and then got jumped on for ‘wasting electricity’. That single fan is not the biggest problem on the face of the earth. I wanted to tell the green guy that he could shut off his computer to offset her fan, and then we wouldn’t have to listen to him! 😀

    I do what I can, I have engergystar appliances. I drive a rather fuel-efficient car (a diesel beetle) and I don’t buy a whole lot of extraneous crap to haul around. But I’ll be damned if someone can badmouth me about the green things I’m not doing. I do what I can, and I try my best, and that’s all I ask of anyone.

  3. What are those steps to acceptance Kate? Guilt is in there, as is anger and denial….

    Honestly people being green isn’t a hobby! You can’t relate the two. We all make a choice how much we choose believe in environmental crises, and we then make a choice how we, as individuals, will deal with the issues. Making people aware of the issues is news not evangelism.

    Denial will still exist, even when that river in africa is a toxic waste dump.

  4. The collective power of many doing a little is far greater than one sacrificing all. I try hard to be green. I’m not guilty if I indulge in travel but I’m judicious about my carbon footprint, recycling, conserving, buying over packaged goods and saving water (which is a precious commodity here). This slow campaign to be ‘careful’ with mother earth is filtering through to the next generation. What we feel guilt about or find difficult, is second nature to them. The sacrifice is less . . they are our hope. The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world. Enjoy Disneyland, I did!

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