Green Light – Ripping Off the Band-Aid

?I’m no longer environmentally friendly,? wrote one Globe and Mail essayist last spring in a tongue-in-cheek piece. After trading in his household cleaners and toiletries for eco-friendly versions and ?greening? his lifestyle, he discovered that his kitchen was filthy, he was uncomfortable, he stank, and his condo had an infestation of moths.

As a result, he has now thoroughly ?de-greened,? he says.

Despite the obvious humour in the piece (we’ve all tried?and tossed?that all-natural deodorant that simply doesn’t work), it raised quite a bit of defensive ire in the accompanying reader comments. Everyone had an opinion, a solution, a patch. Just do this. Get a different product. Toughen up. And while part of me wants to join in the debate?didn’t he overreact just a little??I can also sympathize with the author, because I’ve been there. His method of greening didn’t ?work? for him, and it won’t for me, or you, or most of the essay’s commenters.

There’s a reason we have so many tribulations when we try to make eco-conscious decisions in our own lives.

It’s time to acknowledge that the age of patchwork environmentalism is over. All the sure-fire tricks, tips, and moralistic stances are simply stand-ins, Band-Aids which take the focus off the real problem. They don’t work, and I’ve finally figured out why.

The scientific discoveries and inventions of the 19th century ushered in a new era?one in which everything changed as the industrial-electronic age gradually established itself. Of course with all the modern conveniences came a price: pollution. Reduction of resources. Waste. And yet at the same time, millions of people across the globe were still lacking basic necessities.

So we came up with a patch: we’d reduce our energy consumption, just a little bit. Incandescent bulbs wasted energy, so we sent our light bulbs to the landfill and ran to make the planet-friendly purchase of fluorescent bulbs. A few years later, new research linked fluorescent bulbs to a phenomenon called ?dirty electricity,? a form of electromagnetic pollution that appears to negatively affect our health. And of course fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, which can leach into the environment if the bulbs are not disposed of properly. So now all eyes are on the LED bulbs, which look promising. For now.

The fact is, in our attempt to live ?greener,? we frequently trade one problem for another. A case in point is the San Francisco low-flow toilet debacle. After promoting low-flow toilets as environmentally sound?and the city has reduced its water consumption significantly since its residents made the switch?officials discovered that the reduced water flowing through its sewage system created backup, odour, and bacteria. They’ve had to spend over $100 million to update the system, and need to pour 8.5 million gallons of bleach ?down city drains or into the drinking water supply every year.? Sounds like another environmental disaster waiting to happen.

It’s becoming painfully obvious that every time we, with our ?enlightened? worldview, see that we’ve messed something up, we try to fix it?and end up making everything worse. While many environmentally-friendly policies are beneficial and don’t have known drawbacks, the general problem is that they are merely patches.

We want to have our cake and eat it too. We want to live the life to which we’re accustomed, modern conveniences and all, and yet we still want to be (or appear) socially conscious.

It’s very easy for our environmental awareness to slide into hypocrisy. After all, are we honestly living in harmony with the planet if we use artificial lighting or heating at all? Or are we looking for a way to reconcile one way of life with another?two completely opposite manners of existence?

We don’t want to go back to an era of candlelight, horse-drawn transportation, and no communication among non-local friends and family. We enjoy the little conveniences, like microwaves, iPods, and’s Super Saver Shipping.

Not to mention modern science, medicine, transportation, communication, and agriculture?all have enormous benefits that weren’t available to people long ago. But more ancient lifestyles also had benefits, and one significant one was a life lived more in harmony with nature, a planet less despoiled, an attitude of more respect for the people, animals, and plants that inhabited the globe.

We want the benefits of both worlds. And It’s time we acknowledged the fact that this, on its face, is impossible.

Because for all we decry the rape of the land by industry and big business, It’s people who sustain that industry and business. And while we urge more environmentally friendly solutions and methods, castigating those organizations for their pollution and energy waste, we so easily forget that It’s our own wants and desires that were the root of these problems.

Frequently, our little patches that seem socially responsible are too often foils for our own over-consumption. For instance, Kraft’s plan to distribute cookies with a low carbon footprint is laudable, but It’s ameliorating a situation that consumers helped create. Better for the environment? Make homemade cookies. Better still? Do without!

So what’s the solution? Few are willing to turn back the clock to centuries before the industrial age. But there is hope. The first step in the right direction is to realize that we simply can’t have it all.

And that leads to the second step. As one San Francisco Chronicle writer pointed out, our ?recycling efforts and cleaner energy and water purifiers are really only stop-gap measures until people just plain learn to live with less.?

By all means, continue to reuse and recycle. Seek more natural products. Support sustainable practices. But also develop an awareness of consumption. Reduce?and reduce?and reduce again. Think before buying. After all, truly healing the planet and its people will involve a lot bigger commitment than merely purchasing the next cool Band-Aid.