How Green Was My Upper Middle Class

When I was a child in the 1970s, there was something called The Ecology.

During the 1960s, some of the grownups had noticed that there was a lot of pollution, too much garbage, and a possibility that we might run out of things completely. They set out to reduce industrial and personal pollution, manage garbage better, and use things more efficiently.

“The Ecology,” as presented to us kids, was a thing that had to be preserved and kept clean. We were shown pictures and films of littered beaches, sad birds with trash on them, disgusting goop in bodies of water, and huge ugly smokestack factories spewing poison. What was to be done?

Two things: we were not to litter, and we were to pick up litter. The Ecology would stay dirty and get dirtier if we failed at these tasks. It was implied that the sad birds would still be covered with garbage and that things would get dirtier and dirtier forever.

There wasn’t much said about the smokestacks, the goop in the water, or any of the more complicated things the grownups had to work on. It was generally admitted that people had to change things around and stop treating the world as a wastebasket, and the grownups said they’d do that.

When I was a young adult in the 1980s, there was something called The Environment.

Despite putting filters on the smokestacks, stopping the goo from getting into the water, making cars a less dirty, and picking up a lot of litter, the grownups still had problems. Poisons were seeping into the groundwater, spray cans were carving up the atmosphere, fish populations were diving, and rainforests were being chopped up.

The Environment needed protection. Stopping litter and toning down the industrial pollution was fine, but now we needed other things. As young adults, we were asked to stop using spray cans and styrofoam. Additionally we were asked to recycle some things, to protest some of the more egregious industrial practices, and to purchase items that were good for the rainforest in some way. Particular companies were held up as examples of evil for turning rainforest into cheeseburgers or dumping crude oil on penguins; we were to boycott them. Finally, we were supposed to give cash or time to organizations that stopped bad behavior by companies or tried to preserve bits of natural beauty.

It was generally admitted that people had to change things around and stop grinding everything up into consumer products, that we should use things more than once, and that we should change our consumer behavior to reward or punish those who were selling us things.

Starting in the 1990s, a concept arrived called Green. It’s still with us.

Green is an adjective instead of a noun. If something is green, it is helpful to the environment or the ecology, or something like it. A policy can be green. An organization can be green. A person or a technology or a restaurant or even a web page can be green. There’s a lot of good done with this adjective: efficient technologies and alternative power sources, for example. But most importantly, a lifestyle can be green. As with other American lifestyles, green comprises magazines, television, social networks, and products. Lots and lots of products. Food, packaging, clothing, cars, appliances, services, and entire brands are green.

It is generally assumed that people need to take on a green lifestyle and purchase products that are labeled as such. The best demonstration of the lifestyle is to purchase as many products and services offered by lifestyle publications and media and show them to others as a demonstration of green lifestyle.


22 thoughts on “How Green Was My Upper Middle Class

  1. Brilliant. I have nothing to add except that in your description of The Ecology you neglected to include the Italian guy dressed as an Injun chief and his single tear.


  2. Hey errybody, let’s get all the candy wraps and McFryShovels off the sidewalks so we don’t have to look at ’em anymore
    nor think about the beatings Mother earth took in order to produce them


  3. every party has its pooper
    ugh, DOWNER.
    (the message around here is use less stuff. a friend told me that if everyone did this, the economy will be shitty and people will be poor and angry forever. “less stuff” also makes the girls feel like they are worse off than their friends who all have laptops and televisions in their rooms and stuff. i can’t win)


    1. Re: every party has its pooper
      “Less stuff” on every scale is the only possible and only impossible fix. As Sam Beckett said, “I’ll go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”


      1. Re: every party has its pooper
        right, exactly that. small changes add up, etc. and most days i manage to be optimistic-ish.


      2. Re: every party has its pooper
        We need either fewer people or less personal freedom.
        A drastically and suddenly reduced human population would solve our resource/pollution issues for some time.
        An autocratic world mono-government could force people to live within tight resource parameters.
        The choice of getting more resources doesn’t seem likely in the near-term. The option of moving people off-planet is equally remote. Getting groups of people to act responsibly has proven impossible (see The Tragedy of the Commons problem).
        Sorry to be such a downer, but really: too many damned people.


    1. When I was a small child we visited friends in Italy. We were wandering around Rome and I had eaten some grapes and had this grape bunch tree garbage. I was looking around for a trash can and our host grabbed the thing and tossed it on the ground. “We’re not GERMANS!” she said, pridefully.


      1. Hahaha, this is the best story. My dad is like that with fruit, throwing apples cores into people’s yards (!!!) and not understanding why that’s not okay in America. Meanwhile, I struggle to toss CLEAN WATER out the car window in a parking lot from my parked car because someone might “see me litter.” THE SHAME.


  4. Erf, I remember all of this. It reminds me of the “let’s get multicultural with our Quebecois friends!” stuff we did in school. Boy, were we surprised that not everyone wanted to be pals. Then again, I was surprised when Bugs Bunny gravity didn’t work, either.


  5. Granted, so we’re a swarm SPECIES and we’ve
    got this PLANET
    that we’re fucking up, and doing this
    will actually kill
    us and possibly even kill
    all of us, yeah blah blah blah
    So… let’s go get some tacos, who’s hungry?
    Oh wait, everyone soon. (Except people in the US,
    making sure of that. (Unless you’re poor.))


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