Friday, March 21, 2008

Green for Green

As I am completing my formal education and entering--for the first time in earnest--the job market, one depressing realization governs my decisions: My generation will be the first in American history to have a lower standard of living than the one before it.

Sorry. This column's going to be a downer.

On the personal level, I understand it. I majored in English in college, so it's my fault that I don't have marketable skills. But I won't be the only one with a smaller house and less secure savings than his parents. All the reliable sources are predicting a recession. Baby boomers refuse to or can't afford to retire, clogging up the job market for people in their twenties. Interest rates are down, which is supposed to help the many people my age who are hopelessly mired in debt; but it also means that I can't generate and sustain any meaningful wealth.

Yeah, I've heard it all. On the bright side, I'm a superstar in book clubs, and I get to sit around wondering what everything really means.

And to whack that even more out of balance, shit keeps costing more. Because gas is at a premium and it takes gas to get commodities from one place to another, the cost of nearly everything keeps inching up. I'm obviously not an economics expert, but something has to give. Our culture can only take so much. There has to be some kind of movement coinciding with these trends to accommodate for these harsh realities, right?

That movement happens to be gaining steam without us even realizing it. Young adults are surging behind it and voting with it in mind. In most arenas of our lifestyles, it's called "going green."


The term "going green" itself, as played as it is, is charitably vague. In the same way "hooking up" can mean anything from meeting someone to penetrating them with a golf club, "going green" can be turning lights off when your leave a room or starting your own organic farm.

Mostly, I'm using it to mean tailoring one's purchases and habits to suit certain environmental and ecological goals. It's actually an exciting movement taking shape. Young people around the country are taking tangible steps to insure a healthier future. But healthier for whom? Is the green movement as altruistic as we're making it out to be? Or are we only using it to sublimate that uncomfortable reality I mentioned at the top?

I've started to buy CFL lightbulbs--the spirally-looking ones--not because I'm some kind of great guy, but because they last ten times longer than conventional lightbulbs and use half as much energy. In the end, I stretch my dollar. Likewise, the next car I buy will mostly likely be a hybrid. Not because I give two shits about my emissions, but because it gets 45 miles per gallon on the highway. For me, and many people like me, going green is not as noble an endeavor as we may let on.

For drivers with really really big penises.

It's still an admirable progression. But instead of pretending that we're developing solar energy adaptations to buildings for the sake of our children, let's be real. It's actually for our parents. We're just setting up a radically different set of status symbols than they did in the '70s and '80s. If I can convince myself that I'm actually a better person for living with restrictions and limitations, with less extravagance, it goes a long way toward convincing my parents that I'm fine with my more modest life.

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