As 2010 begins to wind down, the “green” movement has reached a critical stage of maturity. From diet alterations to concerns over one’s ecological footprint, the Western world has entered what seems to be- at least on the surface- a popularized and deeply ingrained era of environmental consciousness.
Every morning our regionally advantaged John Doe wakes up at 8:00 am, turns on his low watt fluorescent lights, drinks a chilled bottle of Brand-X vitamin supplemented water, brushes his teeth with organic fluoride free toothpaste, and throws on his 30+ dollar Gap t-shirt made from inexplicably organic cotton. Dressed and refreshed, he heads downstairs to scramble up some eggs produced by organic feed fed, free run chickens – omega- 3 supplemented of course – and brews up a cup of aromatic fair trade Colombian coffee.
Already feeling a bit warm and fuzzy about his environmentally friendly morning, our environmentally conscious John Doe waits for his co-worker to pick him up in his car-pooled Hybrid car-X to take him to Job-X. At the end of the day that same proud Hybrid car-X owning co-worker drops him off at home. However, before anyone exists the car, something strange occurs. Something that may hinder the longevity of this most recent era of pop-environmentalism. Before they exit the vehicle, everybody in the car takes a moment to think about how they did their part that day, they take a moment to reflect on how they helped the less well off, they take a moment to admire their health conscious meals, they bask in their pride and all give each other a nice warm pat on the back.
Nobody of sane mind would take issue with the daily behaviors of our environmentally conscious John Doe. “Doing your part” should indeed be considered an integral part of bettering the health of the planet and its many residents. Where the problem lies is in these moments of reflective self-admiration that seem to have attached to this era of pop environmentalism. To paraphrase comedian Chris rock, John Doe is giving himself warm and fuzzy credit for something he’s supposed to do. “I drive a Prius, I eat organic, I drive a bike, I buy fair-trade.”, What do you want Mr. Doe, a cookie?
Overt, exaggerated, and undeserved pride should be considered a serious cause for concern for the longevity of the current era of lay environmentalism. The aforementioned pats on the back and dips into the cookie jar prevent the normalization of environmentally conscious behaviors and keep them within a realm of the unique, the different, the other. It maintains them as simply a “fad” rather then solidified social behavioral change and with any other fad, they fade. Once the stimulating effects of pride begin to wear, the lower price tags on conventional light bulbs and no name coffee, the phallus enhancing horsepower of that new gas guzzling sports car-x, and not having to fight over the radio station every morning in the car pool will start to take precedent over the continually “fad” environmentally conscious behaviors of last week. To normalize “doing our little part” it must no longer be referred to as “doing our little part”. Little acts of environmental consciousness need to go unnoticed rather than praised. We need to stop giving each other cookies every time we do something we should simply be doing in the first place. Only then will doing something extra become the norm and be permanently weaved into the fabric of society. Micro level environmentalism requires a communal effort to have any significant effect, without normalization there will always be people “jumping ship”- back into their SUVs- when the self-engrandizing reward begins to wear. If this becomes the case, then the only hope for the environment will be in the actions and policy reforms of the powers at be.
Herein lies a whole other realm of concerns that will be examined in the second part of this two part entry.