Nuance of the new environmentalism
War on Dumb by Kyle Whitmire
"Recycle" is redundant, and it's only one word.
The prefix is superfluous, put there to make the rest of the word sound more important. Instead, it makes something that should be habitual and routine seem tedious, impractical or quaintly idealistic. "Cycle" will do nicely.
To most consumers, recycling is still the end of an object. Recycling is throwing away something, but feeling better about it when the deed is done. It's an old way of thinking. In contrast, cycles have no end.
The difference between "recycle" and "cycle" might seem pedantic, but that difference explains what makes "green" different from "environmentalist."
Life on Earth depends on cycles. Someone explained this to you already, although you might not have been paying attention. There was an illustration somewhere in your eighth-grade Life Science textbook.
There is the oxygen cycle. There on the page is a deer looking into the distance. If you grew up in a rural school system like I did, some older kid before you had drawn a set of crosshairs on the deer. But in defiance of the graffiti, the deer continues breathing, and that's the important thing here. Because if the deer doesn't keep pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, then the plants don't have anything to breathe, and they make the oxygen, which we need. To an eighth grader, the fact that plants breathe might be astounding enough, but amazingly, they breathe in a symbiotic synchronicity with animals - each simultaneously producing what the other needs.
On the next page is a diagram of the water cycle. There's a mountain in the background, where it's raining. The rain flows into rivers, which eventually flow into the ocean. There, the water evaporates back into the air, where it forms clouds, and everything starts over again. Simple enough.
On the next page is a diagram of the nitrogen cycle. The deer is in this picture, too, but this time someone has scribbled a turd coming out of it. This is, in fact, germane to the diagram because feces play an important part in the nitrogen cycle, and that's about all anyone remembers past the next test.
And if students lose interest and begin staring out the window, that's all right, too. Because all that stuff outside, as cruel and contemptuous as it might sometimes seem, is just one great big perpetual motion machine. That's the point of all those diagrams. The beauty of it inspires awe in the Darwinian Richard Dawkins disciples and the Discovery Institute quasi-Creationists, alike. Nature has built-in cycles for a reason.
For life to continue to exist on this planet, it must use a finite amount of material an infinite number of times. More to the point, if we learn to reuse our stuff, we won't run out of stuff.
It's a simple concept, but few of us have mastered it. Stuff comes from Wal-Mart. When we're done with it, stuff goes to the dump. Wal-Mart never runs out of stuff and the dump never enters our minds, unless the government puts one near enough to smell it. Our species has the ecological habits of a cat using the litter box.
Until now, environmentalism has been a latte-liberal franchise, and to be part of the environmental industry, you had to have at least one pair of Birkenstocks somewhere in the closet. Environmentalism was for tree-hugging activists who cared for owls and salamanders more than the families of red-blooded American loggers. The bumper-sticker values of environmentalists were self-righteous and off-putting.
But that's changing. Some conservatives have snubbed the green movement as environmentalism by another name, but just as many are embracing it for reasons that are altogether ... well ... conservative.
The green movement is practical.
It used to be that SUVs were a vulgar luxury because they cost so much gas. Now SUVs are a vulgar luxury because gas costs so much. Green habits save money. And with a hybrid SUV, you can save money, flaunt your wealth and truck your family, all while doing your part to preserve the environment.
The green movement is efficient.
While your parents yelled at you for leaving the lights on when you left a room, you can now leave that florescent bulb burning and save money at the same time.
It used to be that products were made from recycled materials. Today products are made to be recycled. From carpet to computers, designed obsolescence is taking a new turn. With cradle-to-cradle design, reuse is as important as use.
The green movement is responsible.
You don't even have to believe in global warming to accept a greener way of thinking. Instead, a trip to the mall a week before Christmas will do the trick. There's just too many of us now to keep shitting the nest the way we have been. Environmentalism was about the future. Green is about the present.
Finally, the green movement can make us money.
In 2001, I covered a city council candidate forum on environmental issues. Several environmental groups in town sponsored the event and their memberships comprised most of the crowd. Bill Johnson, a council incumbent, participated in the forum, to everyone's surprise. Johnson had supported a proposal from Masada Oxynol to turn the city's landfills into ethanol-producing plants. The crowd blasted him with questions.
"You can hold it against me, but I don't believe in burying trash," Johnson said then. He told the truth but a crowd full of "progressives" was not ready to hear it. Johnson lost that election. Today he is the Director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.
Alternative fuels then seemed freakish, exploitive and scary. Today, such a proposal would seem virtuous, industrious and progressive.
Environmentalism was a burden, but green is an opportunity. There's at least as much money to be made in preserving the environment as there was mucking it up in the first place. There's green to be made from green. And the nice thing about cycling is that it never ends.
There's money to be made there, again and again and again.
War on Dumb is a column about political culture. Write to email@example.com