To me, “green living” ideally springs out of a reverence for the earth and respect for all its inhabitants. These are not prevailing principles in this modern age and indeed, the growing emphasis on green behaviors is at present more of a defensive position rather than an affirmative philosophy. Right now, it’s about “giving up things” in order to slow or halt the destruction of our environment. We struggle with what we perceive as reductions in our lifestyles and with budget issues (since many green products are more expensive than non-green counterparts). We’re operating from a sense of loss, but at least there is now widening recognition that we can’t go on indefinitely damaging our environment and absorbing toxins from every direction.
For us to move beyond this negative perspective we need to become aware of and begin to address the underlying causes that have driven us to the edge of an environmental cliff. These include:
Industrialization, which has done so much good and so much harm, and which needs to be harnessed and applied wisely.
Unchecked corporatism: the belief that putting profits before every other consideration results in the greatest good, which needs to be evaluated in the light of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Commoditization: placing a dollar sign on everything and devaluing anything that can’t be bought or sold.
Consumerism: the idea that we exist primarily to work and buy and work to buy; that our quality of life is purely a matter of how much stuff we have.
Globalization: which, in this context, means sacrificing local economies and self-sufficiency to corporate-based agriculture and manufacturing, as well as demanding there always be people somewhere in the world who are poor enough to be willing to work for subsistence wages.
Disconnection: between modern people and the earth they live on. While 5-year olds can operate computers, they (like their parents) have no idea what activities are taking place in the ground beneath them or the air around them, and how those activities sustain life. The average American has almost zero knowledge about where their food or other products come from or how they were produced.
Becoming “green” is the inevitable result of reconnecting. It happens when you extend value to “things” you can’t buy or sell. It happens when you extend value to the labors of others. It happens when you internalize the fact that pollution doesn’t respect borders. It happens when you decide to take (even just a sliver of) responsibility for the consequences of your consumption. It happens when you decide to invest your own life with meaning beyond being a unit of consumption.
Eventually it confronts you with thorny choices, choices for which we have no clear answers at this time. But there is no going forward without uncertainty and there is no problem solving if problems aren’t acknowledged and confronted. So the choice becomes simple: do I try? Or not?