I've never been a big fan of guilt as a motivation to do the right thing. Obviously, sometimes it's helpful because most of us don't want to feel bad about ourselves and sorry for the troubles we've caused others, which is exactly how guilt makes us feel. Avoiding the possibility of feeling guilty can help moderate our personal choices.
But on a larger scale, it's often harder to use guilt as a motivator to change our behavior by telling us that the world at large will suffer somehow if we don't. In fact, it can be so difficult for most people to get anything other than an abstract handle on the suffering of the world that we pay much more attention to news about substance-abusing, emotionally damaged celebrities rather than "hard news" about war, poverty, and injustice. Partly I think this is because all that hard news can just seem overwhelmingly depressing, and partly it's because we may feel that one individual can't do much to change things anyway. Of course, I disagree with that position because every effort, no matter how small, can contribute to positive change -- otherwise why would I bother faithfully sending out the tiny voice of The Thoughtful Consumer amidst all the gazillions of blogs in the blogosphere?
I'm still convinced that the best motivator for large-scale change in people's behavior is making something cool. This is because our wonderful but flawed human race can be pretty darn shallow sometimes. Based on plenty of hard evidence proving without a doubt that's the case, advertisers regularly exploit our insecurities, our acquisitiveness, and our desire for status. They do a darn fine job of getting us to believe that we can make up for what we "lack" by simply purchasing whatever they're pushing, no matter how insignificant the product may seem to be. (Any fans of old television shows out there who appreciate the extremely witty "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman?" Mary obsessed over the floor polish she used on her kitchen floor; if the floor wasn't shiny enough, somehow she'd failed as a woman. The show was a parody, but parody only works when it's based in truth. Let's 'fess up: we're all mostly suckers for advertising.)
I made reference in a previous blog post to the rather ironic pronouncement in the fall 2006 Vogue magazine that it was no longer cool to be ostentatious, and in a post on April 4 I cited Seth Godin's clever phrase, "Zero is the New Black," referring to low-impact living on the planet as the current height of chic. Well, I succumbed again and purchased the May issue of Vogue (hey, I can be shallow, too) only to discover that a few pages are devoted to living "green."
Now, "green" in Vogue terms is not exactly the same shade of green that most of us mere mortals probably have in mind when we use the term, but any shade of green is a step in the right direction. For example, the Kips Bay 2007 Decorator Show House (worth $25 million after a "celebrated green real estate developer" did her thing) will be painted with Aura, an eco-friendly paint by Benjamin Moore. For her up-coming summer projects, a well-known event planner will be using LED lighting that uses less electricity. Celebutantes and "ladies who lunch" were, in fact, recently lunching at the American Museum of Natural History while hearing a lecture entitled, "Living Green in the Face of Global Climate Change." Vanity Fair took out a full-page ad promoting "a new kind of eco-living" -- "presented by Lexus." Okay, I drive a Honda Civic, but I'm still intrigued.
The point is that when wealthy fashion style-setters and eager trend-followers start to leap onto the green bandwagon, the rest of the developed world isn't far behind them. This is good news for the planet and for its inhabitants.
Maybe your effort at going green will be recycling all those old clothes you no longer wear by donating them to the neighborhood thrift shop. Maybe you'll purge papers and magazines to recycle, too. Maybe your new, simplified, less stuff-laden life will result in a less stuff-laden brain (I can guarantee this). Then you can think clearly about the products you do need to buy and figure out if there are some simple choices you can make that will be friendlier to the environment.
Less stuff equals living lean. Eco-consciousness makes you green. Vogue, the bible of the fashion set, has declared that's what's cool. So what could possibly be cooler than you, darling, when you're a lean, green, fashionable machine?
(c) 2007 Cynthia Friedlob