For the last three months, I feel like I’ve been visually assaulted as hip adolescents don clothes that broadcast the newest, sanctimonious, eco-tastic catchphrases in the mold of “green is sexy!”
I tried to put this out of my head, rationalizing it as just another passing flare of teen consumerism. But then, a couple of days ago, I walked into the Emory bookstore and discovered that I could buy a recycled notebook made out of elephant poop — for just $12!
This made me wonder: When did being green replace Ray-Bans and wearing tights as the latest big fad?
In the past few months, environmentalism has grown as a social trend as well as a global concern. Even fashion magazines like Elle and Seventeen have released their first green editions, covering designers and stores that supply eco-conscious clothing, as well as tips for living greener (Use mineral-based eye shadow!).
The celebrity enthusiasm over this new splash has only exacerbated the issue. According to environmental news magazine Grist, ‘90s heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio created a selflessly named Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation to support environmental initiatives, and Cameron Diaz got training to properly narrate Al Gore’s climate change PowerPoint presentation. Both celebrities also drive hybrid cars, so the world thanks them for reducing their carbon footprint to only moderately smaller than the average person’s.
Maybe my hostility for this fad stems from the fact that I came from an environmentally nuts upbringing. Aside from having survived on soybeans my whole life, I’ve subjected myself to the masochistic rites of using organic toothpastes and deodorants, and even being that vegan freak in high school for some time. Living environmentally friendly is a 360-degree lifestyle change that isn’t quite accomplished by wearing recycle signs.
But what exactly does being green mean? The entire movement is based on the concept that people should conserve and reduce waste. However, as Americans, and as college students, we waste. This is a fact. Toting a 24-pack of bottled water back to your dorm and then rushing out and loading up on green clothing is the equivalent of putting a Band-Aid over how much the environment sucks right now. At this point, when the polar bears die, all we’ll be able to do is look at them baffled and say: “But this T-shirt is 100 percent organic cotton!”
I see this fad as the latest reincarnation of those peculiarly popular Che Guevara shirts. Does anyone really think purchasing a sweatshop-made, mass-produced T-shirt is going to honor the ideals of someone who died for socialism? So by wearing these green shirts, are we really changing anything? Contrary to what these hip hippies would expect, a “one world, one chance” shirt has never inspired me to go wash oil off a distressed pelican. And a better question yet — why wasn’t environmentalism as cool when an overweight Al Gore spearheaded the campaign instead of the shining cherub face of Leonardo DiCaprio?
At the end of the day, taking notes about differential equations in a notebook made out of elephant poo just isn’t the catalyst for the change we need. If young people really care about these causes, any search engine will pull up hundreds of results for tree planting, park cleaning and recycling activities all over metro Atlanta. And if they want to make a small change on a personal level, then raising awareness is fine, within reason.
But I’ve had it with the people who see “raising awareness” as a form of missionary work — fact is, no matter how aware you make yourself, those polar bears are still looking at you and wondering what you did with the rest of their ice.
I don’t know how to restore our dying environment, but I do know that taking actions at the simplest level, like shopping for new clothes that are “greener” is more a half-assed attempt to alleviate liberal guilt than a legitimate endeavor to end global warming. Unless you’re secretly washing that pelican in your spare time, let’s stop with the greener-than-thou accessorizing.
Catherine Cai is a College freshman from Atlanta.