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Leading Green: A few thoughts

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People who want to live Green are encouraged to share. A community garden plot can provide zucchini for a whole neighborhood (or even a whole state—zucchini are randy little buggers that multiply like mad in the summer.); re-gifting, re-purposing, and barter create less waste than buying new things; sharing a ride creates less air pollution because it cuts down on the number of cars on the road. Best of all, living a more communal life is good for kids. They get used to the idea that that working together and sharing the fruits (or zucchini) of one’s labor is normal, so they develop less of a sense of entitlement.

Sounds good so far, right? But there’s a slight hitch: not everyone believes in living Green.

Americans are raised to believe that the highest virtue is convenience. We adore anything quick n' easy. When disposable diapers were invented, mothers were delighted that they'd no longer have to spend time washing baby poo out of cloth ones. Frozen foods meant you didn't have to cook when you were tired or busy. Living Green means up some of those conveniences, and it means a greater investment of time and effort. We may pay lip service to the idea of a job well done, but turn on your TV and you'll be bombarded with ads announcing the newest quick fix to the problem of the hour. Magazines do the same thing. So does the Internet. In fact, if aliens are visiting our planet, it wouldn’t be too surprising if they think Google is our major deity.

Giving up the ideals of consumerism can sound unrealistic at best and like a hippie/commie/socialist plot at worst. Every day, someone tells us what we need to buy. Get an iPhone™ and you’ll be a happier person; drive an SUV and you’ll be powerful and respected. We're lured by the idea that we can get more things for less money, another manifestation of "quick n' easy", so we get a nice comfy feeling when we buy something on sale. Having a lot of possessions lets the world know that you are literally a person of substance.

That’s a hard feeling to give up. Anxiety can look a lot like greed from a distance. There are people out there who wince whenever they put loose change in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas, not because they don't care about poor people, but because giving up any of their money makes them afraid they're going to be poor people. These are the same folks who usually pass on eco-friendly products, because they’re harder to find and often cost more.

Anxiety can also mimic laziness. When the average person thinks "share", they usually think about kids with toys, or somehow getting the super-rich to pay more taxes. The idea of carpooling won't occur to them right away. If it does, they might also think: “How much time will that take? What if not everyone pays for gas and I get stuck with the bill? How do I get the kids to school and still pick up three other people?” The amount of work can seem daunting and therefore off-putting.

One of the best things we can do to make Green the new normal is to lead by example. Don’t get furious when you see your neighbors’ garbage cans overflowing with landfill-bound trash. Don’t fall into the trap of being “Greener than thou”; it’s counterproductive. Remember that the hardest change for anyone to make is a change in their thinking. Start by sharing information, which is the most important Green resource of all. If you recycle and someone else wants to know how to get started, take them out to your local drop-off center or help set them up for curbside service. If you would like to carpool and there’s no group in your area, ask around and see if you can start one. Mention your Green activities on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. If you like working in a group, see what kind of Green activities you can organize in your area. Think about starting a blog. You never know how many people you might inspire! Don’t worry if people question or even argue with you. You’re putting the message out there, and that counts.

Good luck and happy Greening!

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