It is easy being green

2009-04-10 00:00

Going Green: 365 Ways to Change the World from TV weatherman Simon Gear might more accurately be entitled “365 Ways to Feel Good About Being Reasonably Green”. While the book is foregrounded in concern, it lacks the call to action that is so desperately needed at this point in history; instead it allows readers to sit on their middle-class couches and engage with being green as a hobby, much as one might take up needlepoint or building model planes. “My job”, says Gear in the foreword, “was simply to collect ideas together and put them in a format that folks starting out on their green journey could easily access with minimal fuss”.

The result is full of such minimal-fuss ideas, but too often the fuss is too minimal. While putting a brick in your cistern fits that description nicely and will save thousands of litres of water a year, I’m not sure that adopting a zoo animal, driving your 4x4 with respect, joining an eco-congregation in your place of worship or dressing like a hippie are really going to move us into a new age of infinite green-ness.

While the book is full of gumph it’s also full of interesting little facts and ideas. I don’t eat fish but FishMS in which consumers can SMS the name of the fish they’re about to buy to find out whether it is illegal or endangered is clearly one of those brilliant little 21st-century tricks that really can make a small difference. Likewise recycling used household water and collecting rainwater are intelligent things to do, but Gear provides no substantial details on how to do it.

He also clearly struggled to find 365 ways to go green. For example, “Don’t overload your fridge” (sensible advice) is followed by “Leave space between items in your fridge to allow efficient cooling” — which could surely have fitted at the bottom of the previous page, thus saving at least a smidgen of tree but reducing Gear’s list to 364 items.

What I expected from the book was a day-by-day guide full of concrete suggestions that would, over the course of a year, pretty much change the way you live. In the foreword Gear in fact states that Going Green “really isn’t that sort of book”. But celebrating World Wetlands Day, World Ozone Day, World Desertification Day and the 12 other “World Days”, each of which Gear devotes a page to, strikes me as the kind of vicarious involvement that achieves nothing.

The curious thing about Gear’s book is that it exists in a tradition of save-the-world literature that — tellingly — is nearly 50 years old. I read much of that literature in my childhood and many of the guides to what was then called planetary living — mostly American but heavily influenced by the East and knowledge of the world’s indigenous people — that were produced in the late sixties and early seventies were far more rigorous and concerned than books such as Gear’s and the wealth of similar books produced in the last few years. And inherent in those books was the need for a fundamental change in the way we live.

Gear is never quite prepared to make that jump. And he is not alone. In fact, few of us are prepared to do so. I’m really not convinced that the carbon emissions involved in putting his little book together will be offset by the actions it inspires.

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