The article "Affordable Green" in the Dec. 9 business section set off something that I have been struggling with for a while now.
I am an environmental studies major in my junior year and, in my classes and personal education, I've been trying to make sense of America's interpretation of the word "green."
Obviously, interpretations will vary within a nation of almost 315 million people, but I'm talking about the national message coming from our government and "green" regulators.
What I see in advertisements, news and PSA videos about "green" products and services is an emphasis not so much on reducing our impact on the environment as on increasing our consumption of things that have less impact on the environment than their conventional counterparts.
Does that strike anyone else as a little strange? Houses, as described in the article, are just about the biggest thing most people could buy, so I'm choosing to raise this issue in terms of "green" housing.
I'm not saying that "green" programs like LEED certification are bad. The depth of thinking (materials, siting, transportation options, habitat protection, etc.) for the program is impressive.
What stands out for me, rather, is the lack of critical thinking that seems to be happening for the homebuyers themselves.
In all the personal testimonials I encountered in the LEED websites' informational videos, homeowners touted the pride they took in telling their friends about their "green" home, while they sat on one of two couches in a living room big enough to park a couple minivans, while stacks of plates and wine glasses rested on marble countertops behind them.
For some reason, I don't feel convinced by their verbal commitment to "green." I'm further confused by the news interviews with economists predicting healthy sales for "eco-friendly luxury condos." Honestly, what does that mean?
The goal of "green" as I see it, is taking the time to think critically about the things we take for granted in our consumerist lives.
An inevitable outcome of that critical reflection is the challenging of "normal" -- not accepting that just because I've always seen wine served in a special kind of glass, that means I should have some in my home.
There is a spectrum of challenges to be made. Once you've questioned wine glasses, you might eventually get to some more provocative questions: Why do I need my own house? How much space do I realistically need to be "mine" before I can be happy?
I started thinking about the importance of dialogue around what "green" means way back when I heard President Obama's inaugural address. I was nodding my head to his affirmations that America would "harness the sun and wind" and "roll back the specter of a warming planet."
And then he said this: "We will not apologize for our way of life."
Suddenly, this was change that was a little harder to believe in.
All this came flooding back as a woman in the LEED video gushed about her "green" home: "It feels like a normal house. It doesn't feel like I'm having to compromise on anything."
I thought that "normal" was the problem that "green" was going to fix!
So, what do you think, America? Are there things about our "way of life" that deserve questioning? It's hard to know how to really fix something unless you know what's really the problem.
Take a look around you. Why are you surrounded by the things you see? How did they get there? What was lost in getting them to you? In contrast, what do you gain from them? Does the world gain anything?
In the context of all of these questions, ask yourself, ask your child, ask your boss: "What does green mean?"
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Alex Christensen is a student at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn.