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Greener Postures
Alex Steffen, 13 Jun 07
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Do you think that lifestyle environmentalism has, well, perhaps lost its bearings, what with the biodegradable bikinis, reclaimed paper scrapbooking journals and hemp seat covers for SUVs? We do, as we said when we called on folks to make this Earth Day their last. Greener Postures targets the same empty-headed faddishness, but with more humor and dash. It's one of my new favorite pieces of sustainability humor, right up there with the Onion's I'm Doing My Inconsequential Part For The Environment, Spring an Environmentalist Hoax, Author Says and the Wombat. Take their dig at solar-powered bags:

Wouldn’t you like to carry around your own renewable energy source?

Sure, should I carry a windmill?
I was thinking of something less quixotic: a laptop bag with solar panels.

You mean I can recharge my laptop on the go?
Actually, this is more for iPods, cell phones, BlackBerries, stuff like that. It only takes one or two hours to charge those.

Let’s play a game. You tell me who could possibly have a use for this product, and I’ll tell you why they don’t.
Busy city people—

Can charge their gadgets at night.

Can charge in the car, train, or plane.

this isn’t a backpack.
No, but the company makes solar backpacks, too. And a solar beach bag. How about bicycle messengers who are outdoors and use their cell phones all day?

All right, though they won’t like hefting the extra 2.5 pounds, not counting the adapter.

Beneath the snark in pieces like these (and there are more and more of them hitting the media, thankfully) runs, I think, a kind of caring that's actually deeper than the lite green/ greenwashed lifestyle stuff we're seeing proliferate everywhere. It speaks to the same gap that Mark Twain said drives good humorists -- the desire to poke the sore spot between how things are and how things out to be. I find it not only funny, but inspiring, seeing as we need good BS detectors if we're going to actually create more sustainable lives and societies.

PS: Thanks to everyone who sent me this link!

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That's always the danger isn't it. When people jump on the bandwagon, just cause it looks good to do so. You get a backlash and bunch of shallow people who'll jump ship when the next fad comes along.

It's good to see that some of us have not lost our sense of humor :)

Posted by: Deepak on 14 Jun 07

Yep. Except that the "solar bag" does exist and has been around for a while:

Posted by: BrunoG on 14 Jun 07

Oh, yes, it does exist: the article isn't questioning whether solar bags do exist, it's asking in a humorous way whether solar bags *should* exist...

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 14 Jun 07

I was thinking the same thing when I saw the biodegradable bikini on treehugger's front page.

What I appreciate about Worldchanging is that it manages to be fun like Treehugger, while at the same time it provides Grist-like insight.

Keep doing what you do!

Posted by: Manny on 14 Jun 07

in the same vein, check out "cheat neutral"
and "oxygen positive" , which target the current tendency in the uk for everyone to just offset everything

Posted by: joy on 15 Jun 07

I guess I just don't see it. I'm going to buy a bag and so instead of buying a regular one I buy one with solar panels on it so I can charge my cell phone rather than charging it on the coal or diesel powered grid. Isn't that the idea? I'm not buying it to conveniently power up, I'm buying it as a way to start or continue to reduce my carbon emissions. Yes, it's small, but so is any step in a journey.

Imagine the person who buys a solar bag with good intentions and then he is attacked with the snarky comments above, "man, screw this, there's no pleasing these enviromentalists" would be a likely response, no?

I have no illusions that solar bags will entirely solve the problem (is there any non-strawman who does?), any more that the CFLs in my house, or the fact that I don't leave anything on standby, or that I encourage my friend to do the same, will.

And , yes, I write to my Congressman and try to influence others in government and business to make changes. I guess I really don't believe the premise that people who fork out the bucks for a solar bag or buy carbon off sets are the problem. The problem is making the bigger changes like doing away with the coal fired plants to begin with, and I don't see how making fun of people who buy solar bags or offsets is going to get us there any faster.

Where I live we just have diesel powered generators for electricity, and we have been trying to get the very conservative power company to install some wind generators; part of our argument to them is that we can get some funding through carbon offset groups. We haven't succeeded in getting the power company to intall the wind turbines yet, but the fact that some funding through carbon offsets is out there is not hurting our case, that is for sure.

And concerning offsets, I think that Rob Dembo from Zerofootprint has a good handle on the issue,

"We need to be realistic too. Many people are going to continue to take long-haul holiday flights, drive SUVs and run high energy households no matter what anybody says. The process of persuasion and change will be slow. Denouncing people for taking a step towards environmental awareness and carbon neutrality is counterproductive. It will discourage positive action, and polarise the debate. We should be trying to move people on in their environmental thinking, not alienate them."


Posted by: Tavita on 16 Jun 07

Alex, I like the term "light green" for items like these. I think it's better than "greenwashing" which to me implies deception. The intentions behind the solar bag are more honest although their positive impact can be easily picked apart under scrutiny. The value of products like the solar bag at this stage is more conceptual than practical.

It's kind of like the Philippe Starck juicer... worthless as a juicer but a great conversation piece.

Posted by: Stiven Kerestegian on 18 Jun 07



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