It Isn't Easy Being “Green”



William S. Abruzzi








I recently distributed a survey in my First Year Seminar and received the following results:



While far from being a "scientific" survey, the above results are probably representative of Muhlenberg students as a whole.  Due to the expense of attending a small private liberal arts college (SPLAC), students at Muhlenberg and other SPLACs are disproportionately drawn from the upper middle class, whose per capita income and resource consumption exceeds that of the general population.  As a result, SPLAC students and their families contribute disproportionately to environmental degradation and other environmental problems, as is illustrated below.


Air Travel and the Environment:

Aviation emissions (in Great Britain) rose by 12% last year and now account for about 11% of Britain's total greenhouse gas emissions - the fastest growing sector. The government's chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, has described global warming as a bigger threat to the world than global terrorism.

“The most authoritative report on the impact of aviation on climate change is the study by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) "Aviation and the global atmosphere", published in 1999.  This showed that aviation was responsible for 2% of CO2 emissions - the most important greenhouse gas - and around 3.5% of man-made global warming in total.”

"One person flying in an airplane for one hour is responsible for the same greenhouse gas emissions as a typical Bangladeshi in a whole year." And every year jet aircraft generate almost as much carbon dioxide as the entire African continent produces.”


Housing and the Environment:


Cars and the Environment:


Consumerism and the Environment:

Consumption is directly related to income; on average, those who earn more spend more on consumer items.  Since there is a direct relation between the dollar amount spent and the environmental cost incurred, those who earn more generate a greater proportion of direct and indirect environmental degradation in the form of mining, air and water pollution and the other byproducts of producing consumer goods.  Thus, individuals in the middle and upper income segments of the population are disproportionately responsible for a greater share of the environmental costs of consumer spending than are the poor and those in lower socioeconomic classes.



Colleges and the Environment


It is reasonable to conclude, therefore, that in housing, automobile consumption, travel and general consumer behavior students (and faculty) at private colleges are disproportionately responsible for more resource consumption and environmental degradation than members of the general population.












Which of the social classes represented by these residences likely consumes more of the earth’s resources?













*          *          *          *          *





Which of the above social classes is most represented at the Muhlenberg?




While recognizing that those individuals who are involved in environmental activities on campus are genuinely committed to what they are doing and sincerely believe that their activities make a difference in “protecting the environment”, it is rather ironic (to say the least!) to see active environmental organizations and environmental study programs at private institutions.  It is precisely at these institutions that the per capita consumption level and the relative environmental cost of maintaining the individuals in their populations are among the highest in the world.  It, therefore, seems rather incongruous to have members of the environmentally expensive upper-middle class organizing recycling programs and other “green” activities, which have at best a trivial impact on reducing resource consumption and environmental degradation  --especially when the impact of these activities is compared to the environmental cost of the high level of resource consumption maintained by the very same people in their normal daily lives.  It seems somewhat comparable to having drug dealers and Mafia members participating in local community crime-reduction programs.  Those who see an environmental "crisis" looming in the horizon might reasonably compare such activities to treating cancer with a Band-Aid, or to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.


Pharisaic Environmentalism

Middle and upper-middle class environmentalism may also be compared to Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, as told in the Gospel of Luke.  In the parable, the Pharisee boasts proudly of how devotedly he follows God’s law.  According to Luke,

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector [Publican]. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”  But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:10-14).



In other words, while the Pharisee publicly praised himself for the superiority and righteousness of his behavior, the Publican humbly accepted that he sinned and just did the best he could.  According to William Rathje, It is the poor and the working classes who do the "real recycling" --in contrast to the mere “sorting and collecting” that results from recycling programs.  It is the poor and members of the lower socioeconomic classes that actually purchase used clothing, automobiles and other consumer goods discarded by those in the middle and upper-middle classes.  The poor and working classes are also much less likely to take expensive long-distance vacations.  They do this not because they have any greater ideological commitment to the environment than those in the middle and upper-middle class, but because they cannot afford to spend as much money.  Yet, it is disproportionately members of the middle and upper-middle income groups who (like the Pharisee) express the greatest commitment to the environment, who promote environmental programs and who disproportionately belong to such environmental organizations as the Sierra Club and The Nature Conservancy, --while at the same time purchasing more consumer products than the average individual, driving new and bigger cars (even buying wilderness license plates for their SUVs), living in larger homes and traveling on environmentally expensive long-distance vacations, including environmentally expensive “ecotours”. 


It isn’t easy being green . . .


Yuppie Environmentalism:

Use an "environmentally responsible" credit card to ease your conscience while you buy the TV's, VCRs, designer clothes made in Asian sweatshops and the gas to feed your Sports Utility Vehicle.







*     *     *     *     *







Hit Counter