Global climate change? Let’s go shopping

by Jim Stiles



Out of nowhere, it almost seems, everyone is talking about global warming. Presidential candidates, corporate moguls, media pundits -- the news is saturated with the latest climate-change buzzwords. My current favorite is “carbon footprint,” which made me wonder what I’d stepped in....what we’ve all stepped in. It’s a lot messier and more insidious than you might think.

When you listen closely, you’ll discover that most of the current solutions to our global crisis are entrepreneurial in nature. We don’t need to really change our lifestyles; we just need to fix the wrapping. Hybrid cars and ethanol fuel lead the list, but there’s more -- solar power, wind power, bio-diesel, carbon credits, even organic condoms. CanWest News Service reports : The famed adult store Good Vibrations announced they would no longer sell products containing “phthalates, controversial chemical plasticizers believed by some to be hazardous to humans and the environment alike.”

Or consider these observations from Newsweek, in its story about “making a buck green”: “So where’s the money in climate change? Investors sense a tumultuous market in the making, if they can only hit it right...” Save-the-planet investing has suddenly, well, heated up.

Just a week earlier, the same periodical featured “Green Giant” Arnold Schwarzenegger on its cover because "California’s Hummer-loving governor is turning the Golden State into the greenest in the land, a place where environmentalism and hedonism can coexist."

It really said that. The terminator had been a guest on MTV’s popular "Pimp my Ride" television program and had come to promote a 1965 Chevy Impala with an 800-horsepower engine revamped to burn bio-diesel fuel. "This," Schwarzenegger proclaimed, "is the future." He explained that it was important, "to show people that biofuel is not like some wimpy feminine car, like a hybrid."

Newsweek suggested that Schwarzenegger’s view is a world away from Al Gore’s alarming climate lecture, “An Inconvenient Truth." But is it these days? I was first drawn to Al Gore almost 15 years ago, with the publication of his book, Earth in the Balance. Gore said flatly: “I believe that our civilization is addicted to the consumption of the earth itself...our industrial civilization makes us a promise: the pursuit of happiness and comfort is paramount, and the consumption of an endless stream of new products is encouraged as the best way to succeed in that pursuit. But the promise is always false because the hunger for authenticity remains.”

Now jump ahead a decade and a half to an Associated Press story: “Former Vice President Al Gore on Wednesday praised Wal-Mart for a newfound focus on environmental sustainability, saying the retailer showed there is no conflict between the environment and the economy.”

Gore said some people questioned whether Wal-Mart was serious about the environment, then added: "Have you ever known Wal-Mart not to follow through on a big commitment of this kind? I have not."

Is this the same Al Gore? Does he think endless new, mostly plastic products might be more palatable if only we used greener technology? Gore’s search for authenticity sounds quaint in 2007. But more than anyone, it’s us, the "progressive environmental community," that created this honesty vacuum. When did we stop being conservationists? When it comes to the madness that defines an economy fueled by incessant growth, when did both sides of the political spectrum choose to embrace it?

Liberal Democrats aren't a lot different from conservative Republicans. Neither group wants to see us live with less. Republicans think we should continue to live extravagantly and are convinced our energy resources will last forever. Democrats want to be able to live just as extravagantly, but think we can live extravagantly in a more energy-efficient manner.

When critics asked John Kerry when he was running for president how he’d fund his massive health care bill, he said, "We'll grow the economy to pay for it." That means more big homes and expensive cars and massive shopping malls and extravagant lifestyles and a materialistic society that sees more value in "things" than anything else. And I see no one on the political landscape these days willing to ask all of us to live with less. So until we get serious, I have a hard time trying to be. I’m off to find some phthalate-free condoms and a bottle of cheap wine -- I promise I’ll recycle the glass.

Jim Stiles is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). He publishes the Canyon Country Zephyr in Moab, Utah, and is the author of the recently published book, Brave New West. © High Country News