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.