how to go green without becoming a self-righteous douchebag

One of the things that annoys me about living in the co-op community (and in Northern California in general) is the vast number of people I have to deal with who shop exclusively at places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, scoff at non-organic and non-local products, shell out shit tons of money for Dr. Bronner’s (and perhaps console me with “It’s totally okay” if you can’t afford to be good to the environment), spend their summers Flying Out to Third-World Countries to Help Poor People, bitch you out for leaving the lights on, and carry themselves with a smug holier-than-thou air for being so goddamn good. The superbaby progeny of doting soccer moms have evolved into a generation of everything-conscious neo-hippies who embody American whitebreadism. While the vast majority of them are harmless and mean well, some of them can be as stereotypical and annoying as the extremist factions of GreenPeace and PETA.

I’m vegetarian for ethical reasons, and I try not to bitch about it. For lack of money I can’t do the all-organic all-local thing, but I’m also wary of all that shit– those labels sometimes don’t mean anything, just as kosher sometimes doesn’t equal humane practices; small-time farmers with excellent farming ethics don’t always get those expensive cage-free and organic labels, and “certified organic” companies aren’t always what you think. Also, I use lots of jet fuel and electricity, and it’s not even to volunteer to help poor people.

Do I feel guilty about my T-Rex-sized carbon footprint? No, because I’m trying to reduce it, and I’ve learned that guilt over climate change, like guilt over third-world countries, gets you nowhere. (I’ll probably write more about guilt later.)

So the question is: Can you “go green” without turning into a rabid environmentalist? Sure, but it might take conscious effort to both 1) start becoming aware of your products and practices so you can change them, and 2) prevent yourself from proselytizing once you do become aware.

I approach green/Fair Trade/socially responsible/”conscious” living as I would religion: you’ll probably mess up sometimes (or all the time), but try your best. I’d say focus on changing your habits. Use less toilet paper. Turn the lights off. Slow your faucet use to a trickle. Read magazines online. Bike instead of drive. Carpool. Start a compost heap. Dispose of batteries properly. Bundle up instead of turning up heat. Don’t use plastic grocery bags. Buy used. Freecycle. Eat less meat. Drink tap. Cook. Blah blah blah. (It helps that most of these tips also save money.)

Like religion, the whole point shouldn’t be about consumerism, about splurging on rosaries blessed with water from Lourdes or being able to afford fancy bikes, solar panels, organic cotton and Dr. Bronner’s soap. It’s about believing in the gist of things and having your actions speak louder than words.

So yeah, I do think going green is like trying to be a good person– and to me, a good person isn’t self-important or judgmental (I’m obviously still working on this one, given this bitchy post). They would generally be ready to talk about or defend their beliefs if they were addressed directly, but otherwise wouldn’t turn their nose up at people who “aren’t trying hard enough”.

In short, my advice on saving the world is try your best, but shut up and get over yourselves. The end!

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This is a blog of things place-related, by a cash-strapped Stanford grad who's lived in various places and writes about life. She's currently looking for a job in Manhattan or the Bay Area.

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