It’s Not Easy Being Green, and Feeling Guilty About It
BY WAYNE HARE
I hate being called a hypocrite. But over the last year or so, I’ve come to realize something: I am one.
I have long thought of myself as an environmentalist. I hang my laundry out to dry. I worked in public-land management for the U.S. Department of Interior. My truck gets good gas mileage. My wife drives a high mpg little nothing of a car. I recycle all the boxes and plastic packaging that holds all the stuff I buy that’s been extracted from the earth. I verbally and financially support environmental causes. I bad-mouth oil and gas companies, coal-fired plants, and couples that have a zillion children.
I’ve cut my monthly power consumption to between 150 to 300 kwh per month –– far less than a third of the average household –– and I buy solar energy credits. I moved to the city so that my commute to work (and to the local brewpub) would be short. I hate HumVees and James Watt. I skin my way to the top of mountains using only human power. I eat very little meat and then only local, natural, humanely raised and grass fed. Why, I’m even writing this op-ed while sitting outdoors high up in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.
Who could be a better environmentalist than me? Nobody, that’s who. My friends and I are virtual environmental saints. If everybody were like us, the environment would not be in any trouble at all. I should be president, or at least get some kind of award.
In the name of diversity, I have one conservative buddy. He drives a full-size luxury sedan and a gigantic gas-guzzling truck and he doesn’t talk smack about oil and gas companies. The nerve of him. But I like him anyway.
But here’s what has so rudely and uncomfortably dawned on me: I’m part of the problem, not the solution. That 21-mpg truck I drive and that 40-mpg car my wife drives? They both burn fossil fuels. The hybrids that some of my friends drive? The National Academy of Sciences recently named hybrids, over their entire life cycle and production, the worst vehicle for the environment.
Yes, I hang my clothes to dry … right after I burn fossil fuels running my clothes washer to get them clean. I have no solar panels on my roof. I avoid chairlifts by driving my fossil-fueled vehicle right by them in order to skin up the mountain in a responsible manner.
I want to continue to drive to my local supermarket or natural foods store and buy whatever I desire to eat. And I want to buy as much as I can from organic, sustainable sources. Of course, if everybody ate from these sources––where cows need a hundred acres of sparse grassland and up to 2,200 gallons of water per pound of meat to get ready to be consumed by humans––that method of farming would pretty quickly become unsustainable. No, you have to be relatively privileged to be an environmental foodie. And speaking of food, I nominate for “Hypocrite of the Year” a new “natural foods” store in Grand Junction, Colo., that sells low carbon-footprint, vacuum-sealed, organic beef—from Peru.
I know of environmental conferences held in Palm Springs –– average annual rainfall of 5 inches –– a city that, according to National Public Radio, boasts 57 desert golf courses. Fifty-seven! Each one consumes about 1 million gallons of water each day. I wonder when those enviros fly in and confer, if they talk about water conservation. Or the carbon footprint of their air travel.
I wonder about the folks who moved to up-scale Bend, Ore., for its natural, mountain beauty. And then harassed and fined their neighbor, Susan Taylor, for hanging her clothes to dry rather than burning fossil fuels. Or the folks who move to Aspen to enjoy its natural splendor, and then flick a coal-burning switch to melt snow from their extended driveways.
My conservative friend is probably the most honest person among us. Me? I’m a hypocrite. But I am not without hope. We all need to look within. Look at our own actions –– at what we do, not what we say. “Well done” is a much higher compliment than “Well said.”
Wayne Hare is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News.