Everybody is an environmentalist. There are very few who would walk the plank and claim otherwise. These days it is cool to be eco-friendly and green. Most of my friends are. They use eco-friendly products, shun pesticides, chemical fertilizers, eat organically and celebrate Earth Day. Interestingly, most have elephant-sized carbon footprints.
Automobiles nowadays are more fuel efficient and cleaner. But for all their talk about the hipness of hybrids, most of my eco-friends still have a love affair with huge vehicles — and with driving them, no matter how short the distance. My eco-friends show no fear at the gas pump.
“Green” households are legendary for their garbage output. Most of my eco-friends are voracious consumers, and manage to fill four to five 30-gallon garbage cans twice a week. But, they say, “We’re recycling!” — a lame rationalization for the curbside dump sites of plastic- and glass-filled bins and wash baskets. Take-out meals have produced a veritable cornucopia of trash in front of homes where there is no time to cook and pizza is considered a food group.
Most designer kitchens are for show, but their disuse doesn’t seem to be reducing households’ electricity consumption. Energy-saving appliances and light bulbs have given my eco-friends the green light to use power wantonly. They love nighttime illumination, inside and out. And washers, dryers and dishwashers seem to run endlessly, often with partial loads — a waste of power that is usually justified by a profuse use of expensive and environmentally safe soaps and detergents.
Inexpensive and plentiful, water is wasted even more than fuel and electricity. For many, 20-minute showers seem to be the norm. Automatic lawn sprinklers cycle on after a four-day rainy spell, and patios and walks are swept clean with a garden hose. My eco-friends are aware of droughts and the sufferings of others, but those things happen in hot, dusty mud-hut places. They rationalize by saying that water isn’t a fuel — after all, it comes in recyclable bottles.
On the surface, environmentalism looks good and is incredibly noble. In reality, few in our consumer-centered, have-it-all society can practice the discipline. We are just too hard-wired to consume and waste whatever we get our hands on. The intentions are good, but then, isn’t the road to hell paved with just those sorts of things?
Walter D. Kolos is a watercolorist and the historian for the Long Island village of Lloyd Harbor, where he lives.
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