When I decided to finally “go green” years ago, I had no idea it would become pretty much a full-time job. You couldn’t earn “green cred” anymore by just recycling or thinking twice before printing out an email. With eco-worry more contagious than the common cold, and facing an endless stream of “green” stories in the media, I finally realized it was my duty to feel guilty simply for being alive.
With Earth Day 2013 landing on April 22, my message to the earth is: I’m not sorry for my aliveness, nor for taking long showers, nor for buying fresh strawberries in February, even though they were flown here from South America, requiring fossil fuels. I do my bit for you, Earth, and I hope you appreciate it. I recycle everything I can, including athletic shoes, elderly cell phones, outdated eyeglasses, and any other reusable cast-off from my fortunate middle-class life. I have a low-flow showerhead and toilets. I own at least a dozen reusable grocery bags, and one day I may remember to bring them into the store. But don’t get me started on grocery shopping, which environmentalists have made a chore. Not only am I nagged to look for “green” packaging, but also for “fair trade” and “locally grown” labels. By the time I get home from shopping, I am often too exhausted to make dinner.
Once, fatigued from a shopping trip, I took an online test of my composting knowledge, and failed it miserably. I re-took the quiz until I was a composting wonk: old coffee grounds and filters, yes; newspapers, yes, glossy mags and old milk, no. To earn more green cred, I ordered a composting bin, but refused to also order a composting toilet, which takes the idea of sustainability to shocking extremes. In my zeal to heal the earth, I once ordered an outfit from a sustainable clothing company, dedicated to changing the world one biopolymer fabric at a time. So far, no one has guessed that my rain coat used to be a pile of 7-Up plastic bottles, and I hope it stays that way.
I want to help the environment, I really do. I’ve been an ardent recyclist since before Al Gore invented the Internet. Yet I’ve discovered a toxic underside to this whole green movement. Not only do I have annoying pangs of jealousy at the neighbor down the block who installed solar panels on her roof, but tyrannical environmentalists have tried to make us all feel guilty for turning on a light switch, running a load of laundry (even full loads in cold water), driving non-hybrid cars even if we’re on our way to recycle old batteries, and buying stuff. Hey, if nobody bought stuff, the economy would seriously tank, and then where would all the money come to support the Sierra Club?
Several of my neighbors have ripped out their lawns and replaced them with rock gardens, but I refuse to play the game of “greener than thou.” My lawn remains green, and I pointedly ignored the jeremiad someone sent me indicting my lawn as a buffer of anti-social no-mans-land, reinforcing the suburban alienation of our sprawling communities. But if I get a knock on the door from the Regents at UC Berkeley demanding I hand back my undergraduate degree, I won’t be surprised.
Fortunately, my Jewish heritage gives me some measure of peace in all this. Because the next time my husband walks in the room and asks, “Don’t you want me to turn on the light?” I’ll just sigh and say, “No, it’s all right, darling. I’ll just sit in the dark.”
Judy Gruen’s latest book is Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping. It’s funny! It will also help you lose weight and has many sustainable properties, such as laughter—a life-sustaining property! If you are new to this blog, catch up on other Mirth and Meaning entries you may have missed on judygruen.com. You’ll be glad you did!