Green with Anger

Helmet-head, scalded hands, menstrual cups—environmental-consciousness has gone to a new extreme. Are we hugging the tree too tightly?



Illustration by Barry Fitzgerald

I was at the Starbucks on Main Street in Mount Kisco at the beginning of a very busy Tuesday, rotting in line waiting for the largest cup of coffee they sell, something I’ve learned to call a “venti.” Wishing I could curse in Italian, I took out of my pocket roughly the same amount of cash that my parents used to send to Saint Teresa’s for a year’s tuition of grade school and tried to focus on my breathing. The Chai Creme Frappuccino (light on the whipped cream; heavy, but not too heavy, on the Chai syrup) in front of me finished paying with her credit card, and I got my caffeine.

I began to slip one of those cardboard thingies around the paper cup to reduce the degree of burn to my palm from third to first when a voice coming from a guy two back in line stirred me from my uncaffeinated semi-comatose state.

“Yo dude, the cardboard sleeve leaves more of a carbon footprint, you know,” he said. “Leaving it out is a little thing we can all do to go green.”

I just looked at him and struggled to focus, which was made difficult both by the lack of central nervous-system stimulants in my bloodstream and his tie-dyed shirt with the multi-colored concentric swirls all over it. For a moment, I started to relive that one Grateful Dead show I went to in college at which the guy next to me gave me a Fig Newton that did funny things to the way my brain processed information for about six weeks.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“The cardboard thing, man. Do you really need it? It hurts the environment.”

I switched the venti Chai from one hand to the other, avoiding the blistering caused by coffee that had been heated to the surface temperature of the planet Mercury.

“But what about my hand?” I asked.

“Man, dude. We’re talking about the planet! You just don’t get it, do you?”

I didn’t get it.

I’m a good guy. I don’t litter, I don’t burn my trash, I don’t wear fur, and I pick up after my dogs if I have a bag (unless there’s enough snow on the ground that I can kick slush over it).
Am I missing something? Is it me, or have things gotten a little weird with this whole “green” thing? I decided that I needed to learn more.

I had to start the day at the office, and when I got there, I Googled “Go Green” and it directed me to treehugger.com. It’s owned by the Discovery Channel people and its stated goal is to “drive sustainability mainstream.” It offers lots of different types of “green guides” to help people like me understand and take action.

I took a quick troll through the guides and printed a bunch before I had to head out for my appointments. As I drove, I would study the “greening” of our beautiful county.

I had to go see a guy in Ardsley who lived off Ashford Avenue and I checked out what treehugger.com had to say about buying a home. Its first recommendation involved finding a green real estate agent. Lately, most of the real estate agents I know have kind of a greenish tint to their complexions, but I think that has more to do with nausea than it does the environment. A good green agent will recommend that your house get an energy audit to check that your heating and cooling systems are running efficiently, your windows are double-paned, your insulation is good, and your doors aren’t drafty.

I cruised through the neighborhood where houses reach seven figures and I wondered just how much this neighborhood would care about the environment. I’ve got to believe that central air, a pool, a hot tub, a heated driveway, and more square footage than the state of Delaware can’t be energy-efficient. With all this going on, do I really have to worry about a two-inch-by-eight-inch piece of cardboard designed to keep me from disfiguring my hands?

I’m afraid my own energy audit score wouldn’t be any better than my SATs. My windows are old, I don’t know if we have any insulation, and my house is so drafty that when I sit on the couch my hair gets blown back. The problem is, I like my house drafty because I have three basset hounds and three cats and it’s much more pleasant to throw on a hair-covered sweatshirt than it is to sit in the animal funk. Does this make me un-green?

Next, I had to make a trip to White Plains and, along the way, I passed the Bee-Line Number 60 bus that runs between The Bronx and White Plains. Treehugger.com makes a big deal about your carbon offsets. I have to confess that I thought my carbon offsets were what I blamed the basset hounds for when my wife yelled at me. Treehugger.com tells me that carbon dioxide, a significant greenhouse gas, is emitted into the atmosphere as a result of our intensive use of fossil fuels like oil and coal and that I should try to reduce my usage of these fuels as much as possible. They recommend taking public transportation to work, riding a bike, or walking more.

Public transportation doesn’t go to where I work. I often have appointments in cities all over the place and, frankly, I don’t feel like walking 174 miles a day. I’d consider riding my bike if someone would help me get it out of the basement where it’s blocked by all the old empty plastic containers that I’m not sure what to do with. But even if I did ride my bike, I’d have to wear one of those goofy helmets and on rainy days I’d get that spray of dirty water up the back of my suit jacket. Helmet head, suits covered with sludge, and body odor from over-exertion won’t help me with that corporate dress-for-success image I’ve been trying to hone.

When I got out of the car, I noticed one of my brake lights was out. Though one light instead of two might save some energy, I thought of all the energy I would expend, let alone the number of trees that would be harmed, if I got ticketed. I had to head over to Mount Kisco to the Smith-Cairns Lincoln Ford dealership.

I need to let you know something that wouldn’t score me any points with treehugger.com. I don’t drive a Prius, a Smart Car, a MINI Cooper, or even a Corolla or a VW Bug. I drive a 2001 Lincoln Town Car. It has an engine the size of a Wal-Mart dumpster, an inflatable lumbar support, power mirrors, heated seats, and it fits 11 people comfortably. I have to get gas every third block.

I love my car.

I’m sorry.

There, I said it. Let’s move on.

I became aware that everything I saw out of my car window had an adverse impact on the planet and that “going green” wasn’t just going to be a matter of letting my hands smolder every morning during breakfast. It was going to take a lot more.

For example, that evening I had to take Riley, one of my basset hounds, to his Reiki appointment in Katonah and public transportation was definitely not an option. (I’ll leave the species-centered prejudice for my next socially aware essay.) Besides that, I thought about how scooping up after him with a plastic bag was now a bad idea (though not scooping up after him will not get me invited to many neighborhood barbecues). treehugger.com also said I should stay away from the clumping cat litter because it contains strip-mined clay and an ingredient called sodium bent-o-something that does other stuff that’s really bad though I didn’t fully understand what.

I like clumping cat litter. I hate it when my house smells like I use cat urine-scented plug-ins. Can the planet get by if I still use clumping cat litter? I don’t want to be defiant, but it’s going to have to.

A trip to the CVS on Central Avenue in Scarsdale brought to mind some other treehugger.com recommendations.

This may get a little indelicate, but do you know treehugger.com recommends that women get away from using tampons and sanitary pads that will inevitably clog up our landfills and go to something called a menstrual cup? I’m not sure what that is, but I’m pretty confident that it didn’t come with the place settings my wife and I got when we got married.

On the ride home through Elmsford, I passed Romantic Depot, that creepy adult “novelty” store, and noted that treehugger.com suggested getting away from PVC vinyl-based sex toys and, if you demand power with your pleasure, to please make rechargeable your choice. If that wasn’t enough, when I drove past Beecher’s Funeral Home, it reminded me that when I die, I should avoid all that nasty embalming stuff so that the worms can turn me into mulch as quickly as possible.

That pretty much was enough for me.

I don’t want to be mulch and I just don’t have the energy (carbon-based or not) to go green. Sure, the planet is doomed and I’m sure generations to come will be burning their hands on coffee, coughing up un-offset carbon phlegm balls, walking past neighborhoods filled with dog doo, in cities with landfills overflowing with feminine-hygiene products and obscene sex toys while the sun beats down on everyone’s ozone-unprotected heads.

That’s okay with me. The Lincoln has power windows and air conditioning.

Tom Schreck actually lives a vegetarian lifestyle with his wife, Sue, in Albany, New York, and their three dogs and three cats (who do not embrace the vegetarian lifestyle). He would like people to refrain from writing letters to the editor complaining about this article and instead send emails...or at least send letters on paper recycled from old copies of Westchester Magazine.

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