Once you cross over into (or simply stumble on) the so-called green movement it becomes apparent that there is actually no such thing. Every person has a different combination of “green” values and usually thinks everybody else is destroying the planet with their ingrained and careless habits. One person’s environmental crime is another’s bare necessity. But while there aren’t any hard and fast dividing lines there are some general philosophical sub-genres of “green.” Here’s a quick tour:
This is the (probably most common) philosophy that we can course correct the global trajectory through lifestyle changes like recycling, “letting it mellow,” taking the bus and buying organic food and compact fluorescent light bulbs. This group will vote for a recycling mandate and even boycott environmentally despicable businesses but usually draw the line at more activism because they’re worried about turning other people off.
Probably the most rare these days, this group believes that industrial consumerist culture is destroying the planet and we won’t fix (or even stop) these problems without radical socio-political change. The most dramatic branch of this sub group goes around actively fomenting conflict (think The Monkey Wrench Gang or targeting ski lodges located near owl habitat) but there are plenty more who just want to live off the grid and take organic produce to the nearest farmers market although they will definitely go stomp around the state capitol building and chant when necessary.
Heard the phrase “Green is the new Black” recently? It was coined by, and is being actively marketed to, these folks. They’ll carry a fabric tote bag if its stylish and probably own a range of trendy re-usable coffee mugs marketed by Starbucks … but forget them at home more often than not. There’s plenty of green washing in the air these days and plenty of people are happy to reward it with their dollars and not think too hard about it. Frankly I might like this group more if they just admitted that they don’t give a damn. (Wait, no, I wouldn’t.)
This is a newer variant of the good old Technology-Will-Save-Us club which has been helping people sleep at night since the industrial revolution started creating situations from which we needed to be saved. Coined by Alex Steffan of Worldchanging, the term bright green environmentalism references a “brighter” future in which technology and social change come together to form a sustainable equitable world for all earth’s population. My favorite version of this is the world postulated by Neil Stephenson in his Diamond Age in which nano technology filters all pollution and produces nearly all substances on demand (although it does have a rather darker underside of constant monitoring and authoritarian justice systems – probably this is why I’m leery of ultra high tech solutions).
A few other flavors:
In my opinion this is one of the best things that religion has done lately. Its a really lovely about face from the early Christian and Cartesian attitude (once again, Screw you, Rene Descartes!) that since God gave us the earth and we are better than the animals we are free to use and use up our resources as we see fit. Instead the idea is that God gave us the earth and so we had darn well better take good care of it. This changes the environment from plaything to responsibility and we haven’t been doing a very good job of it so far. This message goes back to that grassroots environmentalist St. Francis of Assisi although its getting a lot more play right now than it has through most of history.
This one basically consists of a long list of don’ts. Don’t support bad companies. Don’t eat processed food. Don’t flush after you pee. All good so far. But the spirit motivating it is one of self denial, fear rather than hope. Plus, then there’s the preaching. And just like people who go vegan in their first year of college and then backslide straight into a McDonalds by the second, this philosophy tends to burn people out and turn people off. I recommend against it on the whole.
Its hard to say if this is a facade or the future but there’s no denying that when big business makes a green change there are big ripples. My dilemma is how to help encourage those changes while still having as little to do with the companies making them as possible.