Archive for April, 2009

The new eco puritans

April 21, 2009

My husband is reading out loud from the latest issue of Dwell, our favorite home design magazine. The topic of this month’s issue is “Beyond green – from niche to 889156_dirty_laundry1normal.”

“You can make a big impact on your energy and water consumption simply by modifying your laundry practices,” he reads. Tell me about it! I just ordered an Italian-made laundry drying rack, shipped up by truck from a store in North Carolina. It holds a whole load of laundry that is now drying in our sunny back yard.

But here’s the clincher: “Use cold water only,” my husband reads. Wait a minute: Clean our underwear, smelly socks, and the 6-year-old’s stained shirts in cold water? Visions of women standing barelegged in cold northern rivers on laundry day flash through my mind. Has it really come to this?

Apparently, there are many sacrifices we must make as we go green.

The Washington Post has a photo in today’s paper of a couple that grinds their own wheat to make bread because this, somehow, helps combat global warming. It also tells the story of a family in the Washington-area that keeps their home at 54 degrees Fahrenheit (12 degrees Celsius) during winter nights to save energy. “It just feels cold, and then I [went] into my friend’s house and they had the heat on and I was like ‘Oh, my God, that feels so good!” says the family’s 10-year-old, chilled daughter.

The same story quotes a couple that decided not to have a second child because of the high environmental cost. Each person has a carbon footprint, so better to not produce another person, their thinking went.

890649_kneading_dough2Environmentalism, it seems, is becoming just another form of Puritanism, minus the religious context. We need to deny ourselves, in order to gain salvation. That essentially requires rolling the clock back (i.e. grind our own wheat and shiver in our cold homes, like they did before electricity and home insulation was invented.)

A Puritan, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, is a person who “practices or preaches a more rigorous or professedly purer moral code than that which prevails.”

As in saying no to delivery pizza, a television in the bedroom, and newly built furniture, according to Dwell.

But aren’t these petty, little feel-good green measures we take to show that we’re holier than our neighbors and relatives a distraction from the real environmental battle – the big policy decisions that will ultimately decide whether or not our energy-wasting society manages to curb greenhouse gas emissions?

That battle is being fought right now in Washington between industry lobbyists and environmental groups over the country’s first emissions cap and trade plan.

A green victory is less than certain, even with a cap-and-trade supporter in the White House. Utility lobbyists and mid-Western politicians call the proposed emissions trading scheme a punitive tax, saying it will hurt poor and middle-class Americans mired in recession.

Their propaganda seems to be rubbing off. A Gallup poll released in March showed that for the first time in the survey’s 25-year history, a majority of Americans feel the economy should be prioritized over environmental protection.

Which brings us back to the cold-water laundry. Congress may not do it for us. So what’s an eco-minded citizen to do? Grinding that flour and showing up at work with a not-so-crispy white shirt, is a little therapeutic, perhaps. Even if it doesn’t do much for Mother Earth.