Green guilt: Feeling good about feeling guilty

fireworks-dc-johnWatched the fireworks in San Francisco bay with friends. Our vantage point could not have been better – the Ghirardelli building, now partly converted into co-owned apartments. But even as I watched the spectacular display, a thought niggled; it is a testament to the environmental consciousness of the average Californian that there was an element of dismay in my joy at the smoke and pollution caused by the mini explosions.

“Green energy”, “clean tech” and “carbon footprint” are the buzzwords of this millenium. Pretty soon we will not have to wonder how much our presence and our actions are harming the earth – we will know, down to the last millical of energy and microgram of carbon. Labels on foodstuffs at the supermarket will tell us how much energy we are consuming and how our purchase is impacting global energy usage. At home, sensors will tell us how our temperature and lighting choices stack up in the race to conserve. And that vague feeling of guilt we carry around today will harden to real, measurable chagrin.

But the truth is that all our efforts to “Switch off appliances when not in use” and “Water lawn in the evenings” are not going to make any significant dents in global energy use.  The drops we save from fixing leaks are about the same drops in the vast ocean of energy consumption, propelled by developing countries who are indignant about sudden energy piety on the part of erstwhile guzzlers like the U.S.

So what the whole point? Well, speaking for myself, I find that when I have to set the thermostat to 75 degrees in summer and 68 in winter and be uncomfortable throughout the year, I am much more vigilant about who is representing me in the global discussion on energy conservation. If I’m suffering, then the rest of the world jolly well suffer too. If I have to painstakingly install drip irrigation on my plants to conserve water, then the people in Sacramento and Washington had better share my values and my angst about my under-watered plants.

My guilt about personal energy profligacy translates to strong values about local and national energy practices. I educate myself on the environmental credentials of the people I vote for and never pass up an opportunity to pressure them to pass laws that affect the issue.  I vote for new initiatives based on their impact on the earth. And that, I find, is the silver lining in the cloud of green guilt that shadows me.

As for the fireworks, I read that perchlorate-free ones that cause less pollution are on the way. I’ll be the first in line next year.

Picture by dcjohn under Creative Commons license

2 thoughts on “Green guilt: Feeling good about feeling guilty

  1. S. Karthik

    Kudos to you for thinking about colorless gases in the midst of a colorful extravaganza. Now the Chomskyan phrase “colorless green ideas sleep furiously” becomes much more meaningful to me than ever before :). I believe that it is mavens like you and other Alex Steffen-s of our time who can persuade and propel the world into a Bright Green future. Best Wishes.



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