Ever since my book The Virtuous Consumer, about how to make purchases that are healthier for people and the planet, was released a bit more than a year ago, I’ve been receiving strange confessions. “I don’t recycle,” said one guy at a cocktail party. “I love to take really long, really hot showers,” revealed a friend. “I refuse to use recycled toilet paper,” scoffed another.
I’m not sure what they expect. Will I gasp? Publicly stone them? Counsel them to plant three trees and pray for forgiveness to the spirit of Rachel Carson?
I fear that they view me as an “other,” as I used to view environmentalists. Part of a group that wouldn’t want me as a member. I was convinced that environmentalists were morally superior to me — ready to chain themselves to old-growth trees, get arrested at rallies protesting nuclear power and ride their bicycles in snowstorms.
An environmentalist, I was sure, never got excited over a perfect-fitting pair of jeans, never drove their car unless it was a matter of life and death, never scarfed down a bag of Cheezies after a rough day with the kids.
Environmentalists were better than that. I was sure of it.
And then …
Then I became increasingly concerned. About pollution. About resource depletion. About abhorrent farming practices.
I started attending rallies on climate change; no one threw me out even if I was wearing lipstick. I joined GreenDrinks, a group of eco-minded folk who want to share ideas and motivation … and enjoy a beer or two. I found the conversation lively and the ideas stimulating. No one solicited me to board the Greenpeace anti-whaling boat. Or demanded to know if my jeans were organic or second-hand. Or quizzed me on the last time I was in a Wal-Mart.
Turns out environmentalists aren’t like that at all. In fact, I was surprised one day to look in the mirror and realize that environmentalists don’t look different than I. In fact, the one staring back looked just like me. The only difference was that this one had a light in her eyes that had been missing for a while. She had an optimism that had formerly taken flight.
This environmentalist didn’t ride her bike in a snowstorm. She felt good in her perfect-fitting pair of non-organic jeans. She did use recycled toilet paper, took short lukewarm showers and bought food from a local farmer. What’s more, she counts among her friends other environmentalists who confess they don’t always recycle and sometimes take long, hot showers. Imagine that!