What does it mean to be green?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

In my little town of Gray, Maine (population: 7,000), we recycle just about everything: cardboard, paper, bottles, cans, glass, ceramics, tinfoil, plastics numbered one through seven, you name it. We even have an area at the dump--no curbside pickup for us--where people can leave things they don't want anymore for other people to take. Antiques dealers swarm on Sundays.
This scenario leads many to believe that my town is a progressive one. "It's great that you guys care so much about the environment," they say.
Hardly. The chair of our town council has said on many occasions that he would like to abolish zoning because it infringes on property rights, and he's about to allow a giant supermarket to be constructed on top of our town water supply. His brother, another prominent town father, often writes into the local paper to decry the secret plot by the United Nations that is "global warming." Yet both are avid recyclers and advocate the practice.
Why? Because it saves the town money. Whatever we can recycle--selling much of the paper, cardboard, metal and plastic for a profit--the less we have to pay for our trash to be incinerated and for that ash to be landfilled. It's easy to be green when it keeps taxes low.
Similarly, many of the people we interviewed in this "green" issue of ours spoke about the practicality of being green. Whether or not you believe in an unlimited supply of oil, gas still costs $3 a gallon, so you might as well use it wisely. Whether you think they're daft or not, it's worth the minor expense you might pay for recycling office waste if it keeps employees happy. RoHS-compliant manufacturers seem to be the most technologically savvy, so you might as well buy from them.
The best thing about conserving is that it often conserves the amount of dollars in your bank account.
You'll find the "green" stories here largely ruminate on that theme and I'll admit you won't find many dissenting voices. For one, most of the people we spoke with acknowledged they'd like to be a little more planet-friendly, even if it wasn't something they spent much time thinking about. But, secondly, I have to admit I don't have a lot of time for the argument against being conscious of environmental impact. A term like global warming might be politically loaded, but it's hardly the beginning and end of the green movement. It's better to waste than conserve? It's better to destroy than preserve? There's no way to make money without squandering precious resources or polluting the increasingly rare fresh drinking water that's available to the inhabitants of the planet?
Please. That's pathetic. Only an ignorant and lazy businessperson can't make money without spoiling the environment. Technology is now such that analog relics that relied on mercury switches and lead solder ought to be things of the past. Hey, if you needed to spoil a little water in 1440 because you were busy inventing the printing press and wanted to use oil-based ink, that's fine. But if you can't find a way to dispose of batteries responsibly in this day and age, you're not trying very hard.