‘It’s Not Easy Being Green’

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‘It’s Not Easy Being Green’

It's not easy being green

It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things...kermit_2.jpg

When green is all there is to be

It could make you wonder why

But why wonder why wonder

I am green, and it'll do fine

It's beautiful, and I think it's what I want to be

"It's Not Easy Being Green" - Kermit the Frog

As BP oil gushes in the Gulf of Mexico with no end in sight, against the backdrop of catastrophic climate change, Americans are seeing green like it was 1970 and Charles Reich's popular book "The Greening of America" had just hit the bookshelves.

In fact, "being green" is now something like civic religious duty -- unless, of course, you're down with the drill, baby, drill crowd (which I'm fairly certain are the same people who were chewing Greenspan's economic bubble gum while walking into the WMD trap in Iraq; to say nothing about being conspicuously silent about deficit spending under Bush. Let it never be said that these folks can't walk and chew gum at the same time. But have they ever been right about anything?)

That "green" is one of the most ubiquitous adjectives in the English language serves us right. Etymologists tell us "green" comes from the Old English word grene, which is derived from an even older word, groeni. Those root words (pun intended) are closely related to the Old English verb growan, which means "to grow."

And that's exactly what's happened. "Green" has grown -- like a giant kelp forest, though most of the "green" we see is on the surface. For that we can thank advertising executives and the marketing of "green consumerism," which can be defined as "the use of individual consumer preference to promote less environmentally damaging products and services."

Environmentally-friendly has gone from left activism to mainstream consumerism, to the point where last summer, Investment News was reporting that "the green-investing movement (had) reached the hedge fund industry."

So with the near omnipresence of green, you might think the time would be ripe for the Green Party to, well, grow.

With a common-sense propensity to "think globally and act locally," the Green Party has seen some success on the local level, especially in the northeast and northwest. But GP influence on the national level is pretty close to zero.

In 2000, Ralph Nader got a paltry 2 million votes. And there was a reverse Nader effect in 2008, as Obama drew Greens into the Democratic orbit and Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney could barely muster 200,000 votes.

Since then, when Greens aren't fighting with each other over the party's future, they're trying to explain why they're not to blame for giving Bush the White House by taking away votes from Gore (An unfair charge, I think, but one Greens continue to confront).

What no one can dispute is that the blossoming of "green consciousness" has not translated into green political parties. Why not?

Certainly, one reason is that the mainstream media refuses to take the GP at least as seriously as it does the TP (Tea Party), which isn't even an official party. But there's a deeper reason the GP has not cashed in on the "green revolution" and it can be seen in a debate between what I'll call the Light-Greens (LG's) and the Dark Greens (DG's).

LG's embrace "green consumerism." DG's despise it. Toby Smith captures the conundrum in his book "The Myth of Green Marketing." "When someone makes the decision to buy green, she acknowledges that there is a problem and that ordinary people can contribute to a solution -- a significant step to take. No movement that aspires to have popular support can afford to dismiss that act as trivial." That's the LG way.

DG's sees it differently, noting how the greening of America has produced an "ideological turnaround" in which the vernacular went from "Big Business is dirty business to "Factories don't pollute. People do."

What's worse, DG's contend, is that "green consumerism" is "a substitute for action; it is only more empty bourgeois individualism. The problems are structural." Or, as Murray Bookchin notes, "pragmatic environmentalists often create the dangerous illusion that the present order is capable of rectifying its own abuses." After all, green consuming is still consumption and that's the crux of the problem.

The DG's run smack into the juggernaut of consumer capitalism, though recent polling data should encourage Green activists. Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center found just a slim majority viewed "capitalism" positively while 29 percent described "socialism" as positive. For those under 30, 43 percent described "capitalism" as positive -- the same percentage who said "socialism" was positive.

Our present environmental crisis has the potential to tip America closer to Dark Green. But who knows if BP will be the tipping point that helps the Green Party grow. This much we do know: Green, as the New York Times reports, "is such a difficult color to manufacture that toxic substances are needed to stabilize it." Some green products can actually be bad for the environment.

So there's green, and then there's Green. Being truly green means the environment can only be conserved by preserving nature itself, not by simply consuming the synthetic stuff peddled by green consumerism. Kermit was right. It's not easy being green.

Sean Gonsalves

Sean Gonsalves is a columnist and editor with the Cape Cod Times. He can be reached at sgonsalves@capecodonline.com

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