Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Green: It's the New Black

"Thank you for being environmentally responsible." That was the message on the little green and white envelope I used to return my print cartridges for recycling.

"It's almost spring. Time to make every room in your home a little greener," screams the cover of the Pottery Barn catalog that now lies in my recycling bin.

Green, green everywhere. I love green. It's my favorite color. Heck, I love the Earth, it's my home. You already know, if you read this blog regularly, that I am more than passionate about saving my mountains. But I am not ready to embrace the "green" movement totally.

My friend Rachel's husband wrote two thoughtful posts on the topic of environmentalism and the gospel that are well worth reading. I think he makes some excellent points, that I will only briefly summarize here. The first is the trendiness of the green movement and how it has become a status symbol of sorts. Hang your clothes out to dry? Use clothe diapers? Take your own bags to the grocery store? Way to go, you! You are so conscientious and relevant. Drive a hybrid? You get a gold star!

The second problem is the way that we can ease our consciences if we choose not to sacrifice in order to care for the planet. If I don't want to downsize my vehicle, I can just buy carbon offsets. If I want to feel good about being green while still buying new furniture every six months and dumping the old, I can just order from that new "green" Pottery Barn catalog. One of the obvious problems here is how this system excuses the wealthier classes, the very ones who have the money and leisure to do more about environmental problems, while making no way for the poor to participate.

I have been a little over the top sarcastic here to make my point. But I am the first to admit that I don't do enough to care for creation. Folks who are jumping on the green bandwagon to be popular are probably doing a lot more for the earth than I am. But I think there are a lot of people like me, too, who are doing a little at a time, changing small things, learning what it means to consume less and re-use more. I think this trend is a good thing. A very good thing. I also think that the posts by my friend's husband show a way forward for Christians who want to get involved.

Green is the new black. It's trendy. But trends that aren't grounded in a deeper philosophy or worldview will never be more than trends. If we can't tie the environmental movement that is sweeping our culture to something more than a vague idea of saving the earth for our grandkids, it won't last. It is unfortunate that Christians have not led the way in this new trend, but they can provide a grounding framework for it. There is a loving God who created this world and cares for it. The decay of creation and its rebirth are intricately tied up in the sin and resurrection of man. Lent is here. We wait for death. But Easter comes, and a new birth. We are reborn into a new creation. This earth will be our home, though in a new form more glorious than we can imagine. And so we have a duty to care for it now, just as we care for our own souls, so that it's glory will be revealed when we are raised up.


the end of motherhood said...

I agree with so much of this post - and love the title, but I found myself disagreeing: "If we can't tie the environmental movement that is sweeping our culture to something more than a vague idea of saving the earth for our grandkids, it won't last." From a Darwinian perspective, there is very little more motivating than the survival of the species. To me, the increased, albeit imperfect, awareness of the need to take care of our shared planet is all good.

wheelsonthebus said...

While I think you are right that those with more money should use their means to do the most they can do, rather than ease their guilt, I do disagree with your last paragraph. There are an awful lot of non-Christians out there, and if Christians were the only environmentalists, we'd all be in trouble. A God-related movement has much less effect on me than protecting my kids.

Nonetheless, the idea of a Pottery Barn Green catalog cracks me up, since catalogs are rather un-green!

Mark Horner said...

Actually, small is the new black, according to Mini Cooper ads. :-)


TwoSquareMeals said...


Yeah, I'm sure the catalog was printed on recycled paper and that two trees were planted for every one used, or something like that. But the irony was too much for me!

As far as the post, I think I wrote it more as an exhortation to Christians that we have something to add to this movement that can give it some staying power in the Christian world. We were so late to get on board, and I fear that we will jump ship if we don't tie it to our faith. If Christians were the only environmentalists over the past few decades, we'd have no environment!

That said, I do think that even if you and I want to protect our kids, the next generation may find another way. The generation of the 50's and 60's wanted to build a better generation for their kids in ways that ended up being hurtful to the environment, so who's to say what our children will decide to do in the name of building a better future for their children? I don't think the green movement has to be tied to Christianity to thrive, but I do think it is lacking a strong foundation that will make it last. Because I am a Christian, I see my worldview as offering a valid foundation for the movement, though on this issue it is certainly not the only one.

TwoSquareMeals said...

I definitely think that the increased awareness is good, no matter where it comes from or what it is rooted to. I am not a huge fan of Al Gore, but I love that he has increased global awareness of the environment. Since I am obviously a Christian and not very Darwinian in my thinking, I am trying to find a way to tie the movement into my overarching worldview.

Catherine said...

I'll add a thing or two (which, really I think you already said):

First, I think we've become innoculated against real change. We buy a hybrid and recycle our plastic and don't realize the larger systemic problems of consumerism and other thing. We think we're making a difference but remain ingnorant to the real problems.

Second, since Green IS the new Black, people are being marketed to BUY THINGS and CONSUME THINGS (like the catalog!!!) because its GREEN but not realizing that more is being consumed in the process. Just because you can sell more stuff by calling it green doesn't make it environmentally friendly.

TwoSquareMeals said...

I should clarify that I do actually believe in evolution to some extent. I just don't tend to apply Darwinian thinking to the actions of man. I think there is more behind what we do than just survival of the species.

Yeah, if I didn't say those things directly I was definitely thinking them. That's why the Pottery Barn catalog was so utterly absurd to me. That is one of my huge pet peeves right now, the marketing of "green." Freecycle, the thrift store, Craigslist. Now shopping there is green.

You illustrated my point precisely!

Kate said...

'consume less and re-use more'

Yes, yes, that is definitely it, isn't it? And yet in today's society, you have disposable fashion trends, technology that is meant to be replaced not repaired, cheap poor-quality goods being flown in from sweatshops on the other side of the world, vegetables which have travelled thousands of miles and are wrapped in unnecessary packaging. Organic, fairtrade, ethical, environmentally-friendly...being good stewards of God's earth - and caring for his people,too - is a complicated business in today's world of climate change and global capitalism.

Wonderful post - you really touched on some of the problems at the core of the green movement.

'Becca said...

Great post! I've been pretty "green" all my life, paying more attention to it since about 1990. The current trendiness bugs me because trends tend to be temporary (whereas caring for our world needs to be ongoing) and because marketers are jumping on it with things that aren't really that much of an improvement, like organic applesauce in the same wasteful single-serving containers.

On the other hand, I'm thrilled that so many people are paying attention to the environment and wanting to do better.

Carbon offsets really bug me. The only good use for them is for times when you really have to do the wasteful thing (like, you have to fly cross-country instead of taking a bus because your mom is in the hospital) which otherwise is rare in your lifestyle. I know a lot of people who fly very frequently, some of whom buy offsets and think that makes it okay. I'd like to see them cut back, as I have (3 plane trips this century so far), because not only does it reduce pollution but it spares you the indignity and stress of airport "security" and airline "hospitality", and slower modes of travel are just so much gentler on the mind and soul!

Thanks for links to Rachel's husband's articles--I really like them!

Mark Horner said...

...I do what I can...