Monday, March 3, 2008

Green or Greenbacks?

Boy has the media caught the "green" thing. Suddenly there are features and NPR stories and supermarket labels sporting green, green, green. Go green for lent. Go green at home. Go green at work. Now, call me a cynic, but has anything other than the talk changed? Are folks re-examining their lifestyles on a grand scale, or is "green" the "Pet Rock" of the 21st century?

Let me back up a little... Here on Maggie's Farm, we try to live as simply and, to use a word you will shortly grow very sick of, as greenly as we can. We moved out here to change our way of interacting with our planet and our community. We are now intimate with a specific and beautiful place. We preserve and grow our own food as much as we can manage. And yes, we recycle over 3/4ths of our cast-off stuff. What isn't destined for the paper, plastic or cardboard bins at the town dump, goes to the chickens (food scraps) the compost pile (stuff the chickens won't eat), the dogs (Mainly chicken goes to the dogs) and the Salvation Army. Our trash consists of unrecycleable food wrappers and broken bits of toys and flotsam swept up off the floor. We buy from resale shops and yard sales. We use wood heat (with a catalytic converter on the wood stove). We try to eat locally.... sort of.... because... and here's the rub: Many of the things touted to reduce one's "carbon footprint" are things that we simply can't afford to do!

Solar electricity? Nope! There is no way in hell we can afford the initial outlay. Ditto with hybrid vehicles. Ditto solely locally grown or socially-conscious foods. And making everything from scratch, as appealing as it is, takes TIME, time we spend earning enough to eke out our humble living. Which brings me to the Ol' Big Toe in our carbon footprint: Gasoline. As you may know, Dan and I commute crazy distances in order to live where we do. We made that choice and we surely live in it. But we are not unusual in this, many people are struggling to make ends meet, forced to choose between the affordable and the environmental, between greenbacks and "green".

Perhaps --In the same sort of irony that makes minimally-processed foods with a few healthy ingredients more expensive than those with a bevy of unhealthy ones-- it seems people with more money or more time, are the ones who can afford to make the real green difference in their lives.

I know there are many small, inexpensive things to do and that many "green" things actually save money (Turning off sleeping appliances, for example). And there are a lot of wonderful folks staying true to their ideals and living a simple, humble, truly green life. I admire those who manage it. I aspire to be one of them. (Damn carbon footprint commute!) But other than the dedicated few, I don't see much a changin'....

But what do you think: Is "green" available only to the upper or middle classes? Is it more media than immediate? ....Or am I just grousing after a Monday's long commute?


Chile said...

Green only available to middle classes? No. Many of the things I do save money. By not spending the money to be employed outside the home, I can afford to spend a little more time on cooking from scratch, helping with growing our food, and putting food by. (Employment costs money in clothes, occasional snacks, transportation, lost time at home, etc.)

P said...

Employment DOES cost money. It's so true, though not often talked about. Transportation is the big money-suck for us. (I never buy new clothes!)

But many people (Dan and I included) can't afford NOT to work. The costs of our dual employment are much lower than the price of NOT working. One salary doesn't even cover our mortage, let alone all the other household expenses, and health insurance, which is a biggie, is provided by my employer.

I can't say I'd love to stay home-- I find the work I do so fullfilling in so many ways-- but one teacher's salary has never been an option for our family of five. (Perhaps if we had started out in a less expensive part of the country this would have been feasible....)