Karl Koehler: Green hypocrisy
November 12, 2011
Recently, the United Nations announced that the world's population is poised to surpass 7 billion. That's going to leave a mark.
The milestone provides a good opportunity to comment on the environmental mania that's taken hold of otherwise sane people as though it were holy writ. Open a newspaper, buy a light bulb, turn on the radio, travel, attend a professional sporting event, go to school, shop for groceries or even go to church, and you are apt to be quickly reassured of the green bona fides of the organization, product or person you encounter. Everyone and everything now is obsessed with being "green." These days, green sells, and it's being sold.
This sensibility, in my opinion, is misplaced, driven by well-intentioned but poorly informed points of view. The result of the incessant greenwashing is an inordinate focus on inconsequential minutiae at the expense of well-reasoned environmental resource decision-making. We're encouraged to change our light bulbs, destroy serviceable automobiles, feel righteously justified when paying more at the pump, clamor for reusable grocery bags (most likely manufactured in China) and abhor carbon emissions. Yet in all of this, nothing of significance is accomplished. Mother Nature turns out to be not nearly so fragile nor dependent on us as we like to think.
These trifling environmental rituals have become tiresome. Enough already! For resort towns in particular, there is a chasm of disconnect between the purely recreational foundations of these communities and the meaningless environmental platitudes they eagerly embrace. Resort communities exist almost exclusively for the convenience and enjoyment of travelers and part-time inhabitants who expend significant financial and natural resources to come and, well, play. People journey across the country merely to slide down hills. That's fine — provided they don't at the same time vilify the raw materials, inexpensive reliable energy and hard-working people that make the whole enterprise possible to begin with.
Tourism is championed as though it's an economic panacea having virtually no environmental consequence. No one so much as whispers of the "carbon footprint" such activity entails — a footprint inflated by importing seasonal workers from far-flung places and subsidizing empty airline seats. People don't hesitate to vocally bemoan the environmental impacts of a gravel pit, drill rig or coal mine, but they tend to withhold comment on the same issues as they pertain to resort town development. We're asked to seriously consider taxing plastic bags while coaxing our guests to endure the minor inconvenience of using sheets and towels that aren't laundered daily as though either gesture actually has some sort of discernable impact on anything. Neither does. These sorts of trivialities are championed while the unbridled material excesses of tourist-driven consumerism and the environmental consequences of second-home ownership are all but ignored.
Environmental challenges can be managed effectively and responsibly while necessary resources are provided. Dedicated people the world over demonstrate this every day. To do so efficiently, I'd prefer we take an honest, unfiltered look at what matters and what doesn't. A look at the resources we require to sustain our communities and our realistic options for providing them. That means coming to grips with what for many is an all-too-uncomfortable reality: Our existence on this planet does indeed leave a mark. To posture as though it need not — as though "renewables" and "sustainability" and "environmental awareness" amount to anything more than near-pointless distraction — is irresponsible folly. Green sells, but it also smells. The whiff of green hypocrisy is unmistakable.
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