We’ve all been rumbling here lately about what is happening to the word "green." It’s becoming one of those culturally loaded words that carries a truck-full of assumptions with it. The problem is, the assumptions are drastically different if you are an activist trying to protect salmon spawning grounds, or if you are a suburbanite living in a McMansion who is suddenly looking askance at that giant Lincoln Navigator, or if you are a Domino magazine editor trying to push a lot of burlap-bag looking clothes for spring.
Those assumptions might have come into explosive conflict early yesterday, when a new "green" development in the Seattle suburbs was burned down, with a sign at the site claiming this as the work of ecoterrorists. If so, the activist’s definition of "green" met the suburbanite’s definition met the marketer’s–and the contested ground went up in flames. Not "green"; "red."
In the interests of full disclosure, I have to say that I grew up in a suburb and spent the tedious years of my childhood marking down the hours until I could escape that witless, brutal, ugly, oppressive, culture-free place that I was forced to call home. As a result, I’ve got an anti-suburban blind spot so big, I can hardly drive a car in some states. No way would I ever spend $2 million for a cookie-cutter house on an asphalt cul-de-sac, as the owners of these charred homes were preparing to do. And if I were queen, there would be an inviolable greenbelt around every American city, so developments like the development in question would never be built.
But I’m sorry, ecoterrorists scare me–as does the entire anti-human branch of the "green" movement. For example, last week, I ran across the National Audubon Society’s fact-sheet on declining bird habitats and was shocked by a certain deep-dyed nuttiness in it, which suggested that the best way to help the songbirds is to get rid of the people.
If ecoterrorists started the Seattle house fires, they clearly agree–burn the people out, and it will be better for the beavers.
I have a theory as to why the word "green" is in such scorching dispute. We all know that the way we’re living is coming to an end. We cannot go on being such profligate drivers, consumers of plastic bags, users of lawn chemicals, builders of two-story "great" rooms, and electricity wasters–or we’ll choke out the planet in the process. We have to change and to sacrifice.
What’s not yet clear is the degree of sacrifice that is going to be required. On the one hand, there are those people who think that famine and disease and resource wars–and a much smaller human population at the end of it–are the only way the earth will get back in balance. And on the other hand, there are those people who feel virtuous because they now recycle the plastic tubs their mesclun salads from California are packed in.
I have no idea which group has the more accurate grasp of the word "green." Or maybe I do have an idea, but am hoping not to admit it. I’m just praying that whichever definition proves correct, I don’t have to sacrifice my weekend house in the country–and that it turns out that the key to saving the planet is growing a lot of very nice vegetables in the backyard.