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This morning I went on a green housekeeping book binge at the library in the hopes of finding something good to write a book review about for publication in my neighborhood newsletter. Let me tell you right now, The Lazy Environmentalist On A Budget by Josh Dorfman has not made the cut.

Published in a magazine like Real Simple, this 220 page book would be a good series of articles. It has a lot of very detailed resources of where to purchase a variety of green alternatives to everyday items. As a book, it will be dated in no time and it drove me up the wall. According to Dorfman, the Lazy Environmentalist doesn't want to change anything about his life as an American consumer, he just wants to feel better about his impact on the planet while doing so. Josh Dorfman happily tells the reader right away that he loves his Brita water filter and Clorox Green Works cleaners so much that he has become a paid collaborator or spokesperson for them and for Walmart. Halfway through the book he explains his philosophy:
"When big companies offer a green alternative, they are often accused of jumping on the green bandwagon to make a buck. But from the Lazy Environmentalist's perspective, this green bandwagon is precisely what we need. Every company, consumer, citizen, and government official must move in a green direction if we are going to successfully restore balance to our lifestyles and the planet. As far as I can tell, Mother Nature doesn't care whether we create positive environmental change because we are morally compelled or whether we do it to save a buck, earn a buck, live a healthier life, look cool, or get lucky. As long as substantive, positive environmental change is happening, it's all good."
On one hand I have to agree that as long as good is done, the motivation is irrelevant. On the other hand, I am opposed to fleecing the consumer by putting an "environmentally friendly" label on a product.

What do you expect to read after the following statement? "Ninety percent of energy expended by clothes washers is used for heating the water". If you said "Wash clothes in cold water" you'd be sadly wrong. The sentence actually concludes  "so moving toward an Energy Star, water-efficient model protects the environment and your bank account". Sure Dorfman's not wrong, but if you've bought a new washer simply for the environmental impact of running it rather than because your old one died, you're damaging "the environment and your bank account".

And then we arrive at Chapter 6: Righteous Real Estate and Green Remodeling and the greenwashing machine goes into overdrive. The real estate section of this chapter fawns lovingly over new developments of LEED-certified housing. LEED certification is a good thing, but he's talking about housing developments, urban sprawl eating woodlands and corn fields. How is this a good thing? It's certainly a better choice than "little boxes made of ticky tacky" on that wooded hillside, but haven't we come to a point where we can acknowledge that urban sprawl is a bad thing environmentally speaking? 

Finally, it bothers me that all the solutions in this book are "Buy this thing". Not only did I hope for something more interesting than "Go shopping" (shades of George W. Bush post 9/11) but Dorfman's budget is well above my own. He suggests an affordable pair of fair trade jeans that cost $100 in 2008. Under "Green The Fridge" he recommends purchasing a new Energy Star refrigerator, and suggests two models by Whirlpool and Frigidaire. While I acknowledge that a new fridge will be more energy efficient than my current one, perhaps we could start with tips for extending the life and efficiency of the old fridge such as vacuuming the coils and keeping the freezer full?

In all, this was not at all what I was hoping to find. Thank goodness I got it from the library.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 12th, 2010 03:14 am (UTC)
That is spectacularly wasteful advice. But Real Simple is a consumer guide to spectacularly expensive things. I suppose life might be simpler if you had fewer things even if they were more expensive (I'm thinking of Sam Vimes' rumination on the comparative cost and longevity of boots), but the editors of Real Simple can't get behind that - they have to fill up a magazine, and sell new ads, every month.
Aug. 12th, 2010 12:05 pm (UTC)
Book Review: The Lazy Environmentalist On A Budget
That is why I wouldn't have minded this content in a magazine. But this is a book, and it really bothered me.
Aug. 12th, 2010 04:07 am (UTC)
On one hand I have to agree that as long as good is done, the motivation is irrelevant. On the other hand, I am opposed to fleecing the consumer by putting an "environmentally friendly" label on a product.

I'm certainly opposed to fleecing the consumer, on the other hand, I'm very wary of developing a religious "Greener than thou" attitude which is unproductive. One of the articles I read recently said that the new rage in couples therapy is resolving environmental differences. Both members of a pair want to do the "right" thing, but disagree about the degree to which it is to be done, and when one partner bikes 7 miles to work daily but throws a plastic water bottle directly in the trash when no recycling can was readily available, the other thinks it's grounds for divorce.

When green becomes a moral issue, I have a problem with it.

Aug. 12th, 2010 04:55 am (UTC)
MY mother in law bought me a book. It was something like "green guide for moms". Which was sweet of them. Then I started reading it. I was like "uhhh I can't take this book home"

It was a book on how to be a green mom alright, but a CHRISTIAN green mom.

I don't know if she picked it up unintentionally (my fervent hope) or on purpose to make a point (my biggest fear).
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )