It's Queasy Being Green

The idea is all right, but the color is all wrong. And don’t even get me started on recycling…

Illustration by Tom Deja



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I think the environmental movement reflects some healthy common sense about our planet. I just wish we had picked a different color to define it. I have issues with green.

First, I’m not at all sure that green should be the planet’s preferred color. If the space shuttle started beaming back images of an earth that was green instead of blue, wouldn’t that mean there’s a pretty big problem here? Wouldn’t it mean the Big Blue Marble’s oceans were coated with thick, green pond scum? Isn’t the global warming crisis one in which what is now frozen and white might one day soon be lush and green?

Money is green, and money—or the making of it in obscene proportions—has certainly contributed to some of our environmental problems. To be green with envy is not one of our more endearing human qualities. I was green on a cruise ship once. I know being in the pink would have felt a lot better. And I’d certainly feel blue if my dentist told me my teeth were starting to turn green.

I know that when the siding and deck on my house turn green, it’s time for a power wash. When Oscar Madison offered “green sandwiches and brown sandwiches” to his poker buddies, didn’t most of them opt for brown? And when I see a lawn that’s too green, I think of all the fertilizers that went into making it that way, fertilizers that wind up in storm runoff that turns into red tide when it hits our streams, rivers and oceans.

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But I suppose my biggest problem is not the color we’ve designated for environmental issues. And it’s not that we’ve allowed politicians to lead the debate instead of those whom we would expect to actually know about these things, such as scientists. My biggest problem with the whole environmental cause has to do with one of its largest components: recycling.

It borders on heresy to speak out against it. But isn’t recycling simply us telling industry, “We’ll clean up after you and do all the heavy lifting to sort out the various materials you’ve shoved down our throats, then ship it back to you at our expense so you have a whole new pile of raw material to make something else out of”? And don’t we provide all this to industry for free?”

I wonder what would happen if the industries that produced materials that need to be recycled paid all the costs. I bet that would cut down on volume, to say nothing of improving the efficiency of, say, packaging materials so that you would no longer need the Jaws of Life to open a DVD.

I see business cringing at this idea because “paying” in this case would be in the form of a tax—something business has always considered pollution of its bottom line, a pollution it expects politicians to recycle from business back to consumers. Which in the end merely recycles our income by shipping it off to the IRS—all free of charge, of course. We even pay for the stamp. We should be allowed to put a little symbol with “100 Percent Recycled Income” on the bottom of our tax returns.

Environmental issues, it seems to me, are more of a what-goes-around-comes-around kind of recycling of bad ideas, bad policies and bad choices that spin and spin until it does, eventually, turn you green.

Is anyone out there still thinking that maybe if there were simply fewer of us on the planet, it might be able to take care of itself? But that’s a whole other story. At times like this, I like to recall the words of that great American philosopher, Pogo: “We has met the enemy, and he is us.” 

Reid Champagne spends more and more of his time thinking green but seeing red.