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October 12, 2005
It's Not Easy, Being Green

(Warning: Aimless thoughts leading nowhere.)

Over at Clusterfuck Nation, James Kunstler has a few bitter words about our energy consumption.

I don't know what to do about this. I had to gas my car up yesterday. If I didn't put gas in my car yesterday, I wouldn't have been able to drive to work today.

But I'm thinking about the energy problem and I'm feeling guilty that I needed gas. I'm feeling guilty that I'm unwilling to spend 1-1/2 hour commuting to and from work each day on public transportation, instead of 40 minutes each way. Three hours is a big chunk of person time, you know? (By the time they get the light-rail open and the public transportation commute is of sensible length, I'll be unemployed.)

I thought about the energy problem Monday morning, when I rolled out of bed and found out that the power was off and snow was pouring down outside.

"Some people will have to do without power a lot this winter," I thought. "Some people in Iraq have been doing without reliable power for years, even though it gets up to 110 degrees in the summer. Some people in remote parts of the world have never had much access to electricity and now they've had a devastating earthquake and they have nothing."

I sat there in the dark and thought about it. Thought about the end of cheap oil. About the end of oil. About the end of the never-ending parade of grimy coal trains that pour out of the Rocky Mountains every day. Thought about natural gas...the limited supply and the damage done to the surrounding environment when it's drilled.

When I got done brooding about that in my dark, but perfectly wam and comfortable living room, I spent some time feeling guilty because some people donít have a roof over their heads, even one sheltering an unlit room.

And I looked around at the furnishings and I started feeling guilty about the environment because everywhere I looked, something was made of plastic or a fabric/substance that started as plastic.

From the plastic lunch dishes drying on the counter to the air conditioner to the television, I started seeing clouds of chemicals pouring into the pristine air as factories struggled to produce all of the necessary and all of the entirely useless items that I seem to require to sustain my existence from day to day.

I saw landfills overflowing with never-to-degrade plastic cases for computer hard drives. Tires, degrading with glacial slowness under a protective mound of cast-off clothing, broken toys, and kitchen waste. A toxic sludge of almost-empty cleaning bottles, leftover bits of soap, and rotting food sinking into the soil and leaching into the water supply.

I'm not, I should point out, excessively Green myself. When I'm feeling sulky about it, I decided that I did, after all, make the decision not to reproduce, which has to be the single-best thing a human being can do for the planet. When I'm feeling guilty about it, I buy bio-friendly cleaning products and comfort myself with the memory of how few bottles and cans pass through my kitchen. When I'm feeling defensive about it, I give money.

But, at that moment, sitting there in the dark torn between agitating for power and being grateful for shelter, I felt that old, familiar feeling. The one where you don't want to give up the comforts and luxuries you're used to, but where you feel a rare connection to the lives of those for whom the abundance you take for granted represents unimaginable luxury.

I felt that gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots" and felt, once again, that it's wrong to have so much if others have nothing.

(Nothing like a quick splash of Liberal Guilt to start the week.)

Sometimes I wonder if the difference between liberals and others is the ability to connect, not just intellectually, but emotionally, to the plight of the poor and the disenfranchised?

Posted by AnneZook at 08:06 AM


I just wanted to say that this is one of the best Yom Kippur pieces I've read this year. I know, you're not Jewish, and it's not about Yom Kippur. Doesn't matter.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at October 14, 2005 03:47 AM

Thank you.

Posted by: Anne at October 14, 2005 11:34 AM