A few years back Thomas Friedman wrote a stirring essay in his book, Hot Flat and Crowded that I have used as a course reading over and over again. I shared it yet again in class this past week. His essay, "205 Easy Ways to Save the Earth" questions whether we have succeeded in bringing about a "green revolution" or whether we are just lounging about having a "green party". He states in his usual cynical way, "Yes, step right up, ladies and gentlemen, in the green revolution we're having in America today, everybody gets to play, everybody's a winner, nobody gets hurt, and nobody has to do anything hard." He continues, "That's not the definition of a revolution. That's the definition of a party."
I tend to be a fairly optimistic person, but I'm going to have to agree with Friedman on this one. Much of what gets touted as remarkable change appears to me to be more party-like than anything else. I remember a few years back I was asked to attend an Earth Day festival in Ventura, CA to hand out literature about sustainable agriculture for the non-profit I was working for. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of visitors flooded through the market-like setting, but the booth I was working (despite our free organic strawberries) did not seem to be getting much attention. I wondered why nobody liked us so I left my post and wandered around to the other organizations to see what they were doing to bring over the crowds. I found the other booths to be suffering the same sort of loneliness. So I was left to wonder, what are all the people at the event actually doing if they aren't learning about how to live a more sustainable life? Well, as my search continued I did find the people. They were gathered either around the stage dancing or they were shopping.
Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with dancing, nor is there anything necessarily wrong with shopping (from thoughtful sources and in thoughtful quantities), but hopefully we can all agree that dancing and eco-friendly shopping alone are not going to solve all of the problems we face. The fact of the matter is that we will ultimately be forced to do more than just the "easy" things if we wish to continue this whole societal adventure. There is nothing wrong with starting simple. We all have to start somewhere but don't pretend that you have done enough after buying one of our cool reusable cloth bags. My hope would be that you'll have it strapped around your shoulder as you bike off to work tomorrow.
Friedman's essay is a cynical wake up call that I greatly enjoy, but I am still optimistic. It is true that there are a great many in this just for the cool bumber stickers, but there are still others making difficult decisions and great sacrifices everyday to make the world a better place to live. Sure, we aren't the majority, but we're here and we're making a difference each and every day whether it is making the decision to replace our torn and worn bedding with organic, the decision to live in a smaller home, or even the decision to take the time to check out a website like this. It all matters and I'm just not giving up.
Vincent M. Smith