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July 19, 2008

Lisa Miller: 'Green' is more than just a fad


Green is definitely in.

Turn on the TV news or open the local paper and you'll see stories on the latest climate-change issues, letters to the editor debating the merits of wind power, and ads for fuel-efficient cars.

Peruse a magazine rack and you'll find everything from in-depth analysis on which presidential candidate is the "greenest" to fluffy spreads on environmentally friendly cosmetics _ sandwiched, of course, between ads for eco-friendly products.

It seems everyone wants a piece of the green market; even Wal-Mart has begun offering reusable cloth shopping bags.

With inflation rising faster than it has in 26 years, people are trading in pickups and SUVs for more-fuel-efficient sedans, driving less, clipping coupons and starting gardens.

Meanwhile, the technological revolution marches on. We've got phones on our ears and iPods and PDAs in our pockets. We've grown accustomed to multitasking as a way of life, and to being constantly available, connected and plugged in.

Consider the irony of trying to save money on our ever-climbing gas and food bills so we can still afford cell phone plans and Internet service. For most middle-class American families, these have become as indispensable as cable TV and microwave ovens.

It is an interesting dichotomy: the sustainable-living movement vs. the information age; two potentially incompatible forces on a collision course. Nearly everything we do requires energy, yet we haven't quite figured out how to harness or create the renewable resources necessary to power our lives without trashing the planet.

Whether our efforts to "be green" really matter or are just a feel-good way to ease our collective guilty conscience remains to be seen. Can using cloth shopping bags and compact fluorescent light bulbs offset the carbon footprint of a half-hour commute in a full-size truck?

Of course, it's better than doing nothing, and I've always been an advocate of small steps that, together, could make a big difference. I'm just not convinced that small steps will be enough.

It seems we may have reached a tipping point _ and also a crossroads, of sorts, between two completely different ways of life. Someday, my generation may be remembered as the last to recall life without the Internet and cell phones _ or recycling centers and electric cars.

I think the green movement is more than a fad. Things are about to change in big ways, because we have no choice.

I'm not saying we'll go back to the way our grandparents lived, because you can't go back. The information "superhighway" will never dead-end. We've grown accustomed to being connected, and that will not change. We'll still use gadgets for entertainment and communication, as well as to be more efficient in our daily lives _ but we'll also have to be smarter about the way we live.

We may have to redirect our energy, away from technology as entertainment and toward technology as a tool for sustaining the basic things we need. We'll need to use technology to find ways to maintain clean-water sources and a stable food supply, communicate, get from point A to point B and deal with the effects of climate change, whether it's growing food in a drought or protecting our cities from catastrophic flooding.

One way or another, we will learn to use less energy. More people will be taking mass transit or driving smaller, fuel-efficient cars. This is happening already; last month, the Ford F150 dropped to fifth place on the list of the best-selling vehicles in America, after 17 years at No. 1.

The paths of the slow-growing sustainable-living movement and the high-speed information age may seem like two very-different journeys, but their convergence is necessary and important.

If we want to survive on this planet, we'll need both a commitment to sustainable living and the technology and ingenuity to put it into practice.

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Lisa Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at lisamiller44@hotmail.com.