Hey, hey, hey! The Living Small house (and its residents) are featured in a tiny house story in today’s issue of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Interest piqued? Grab a copy from the nearest dispenser and/or newsie.

If you live outside paper-purchasing distance, check out the online version (with pics!).

Some other Smalls are featured, too. Pretty cool that the local daily has its hooks in the Small-living trend.

Thanks to reporter Cecelia Goodnow and photographer Scott Ecklund — it was a pleasure!

Green for Green’s Sake

March 11, 2008

I suppose everyone who’s interested has already taken a drag through Monica Hesse’s recent love-it-or-hate-it Washington Post article haranguing the green-goods market. It cut through the ecohip blogs like a rimshot, and everyone from Josh Dorfman, alias The Lazy Environmentalist, to TreeHugger, to ReNest had somethin’ to say.

For the record: I’m a fan of Hesse’s piece. It’s ballsy. Irreverent. Challenging. And, naturally, that’s why it has caused such a stir. In it, Hesse questions the unbridled consumption of eco-fabulous products for the sake of their eco-fabulousness. An excerpt:

Green is the new black, carbon is the new kryptonite, blah blah blah. The privileged eco-friendly American realized long ago that SUVs were Death Stars; now we see that our gas-only Lexus is one, too. Best replace it with a 2008 LS 600 hybrid for $104,000 (it actually gets fewer miles per gallon than some traditional makes, but, see, it is a hybrid). Accessorize the interior with an organic Sherpa car seat cover for only $119.99.

Sure, she exaggerates; and sure, she chooses easy targets (when was the last time people backed SUVs?). But she gets to the heart of it. She works the extremes, as a good satirist does, and she nails it: “And let us never consider the other organic option — not buying — because the new green consumer wants to consume.”

This is the nub of her argument, and it is this nub that may well be raising the hackles of those earth-conscious folks who still love a little retail therapy (provided they can bring their own bags, of course). Certainly, most responses have focused on the sensational tone and burlesque examples — really, Swiss-milled, 600-thread-count sheets for $570? Uh-huh. — but I’m guessing that said responses are veiled attempts to degrade Hesse’s conclusion: you know, the one that says we shouldn’t buy so much stuff.

It seems that challenging that consumer mindset is what sets people off; typically, what follows is a torrent of reproach that accuses the challenger of elitism, quite possibly one of the deadliest character traits in our “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” milieu. As No Impact Man observed after edging out into the no-fly zone, “people get pretty upset, in turns out, when you suggest that to live environmentally might mean fewer air trips to the Bahamas. ‘What’s the point of saving the world if I can’t see it?’ someone commented yesterday. Oh boy. That roused some other people.”

Hesse, in her green = not buying equation, essentially proposes a lifestyle that is likewise difficult to envision: a life without the New may rank in yuck-factor with life sans air travel. Why? Because these assertions, ascetic as they may seem, call into question thousands of lifestyles. It’s that old saw, friends: Judge not, lest ye be judged, or, more commonly, You’re not the boss of me. And your mother wears Army boots.

The aforementioned Lazy Environmentalist, who was quoted in the article thus:

“Buying stuff is intrinsically wrapped up in our identities,” Dorfman says. “You can’t change that behavior. It’s better to say, ‘You’re a crazy shopaholic. You’re not going to stop being a crazy shopaholic. But if you’re going to buy 50 pairs of jeans, buy them from this better place.’ “

contends that “green consumerism” isn’t implausible. In fact, in his response to the article, he asserts: “I do not believe that the only socioeconomic model that can bring our way of life back into balance with nature is one predicated on sacrifice.” Perhaps; but is it possible to live well by the planet, by our neighbors, and not sacrifice something? Is the Lazy Environmentalist living up to his name here, simply pushing the sacrifice out of sight?

A friend of mine once decided to forgo meat, not because he was opposed to the meat industry, and not because we went to a hippie college. He chose to veg because he was not convinced, one way or the other, that an ethical person would partake of the flesh. “I figure,” he said, “that until I can determine meat-eating as good, I shouldn’t do it.”

In this way, should not we all examine our behavior in an attempt to discern its ethical value? Aren’t we, as concerned citizens, stumbling toward the good life? The socially conscious life? In some ways, the Small life?

If so, please tell me: How does buying 50 pairs of jeans, regardless of manufacturer, help us achieve The Small? The good?

Okay. Yes. This is idealistic. And yes. The pragmatist in me concurs with Dorfman’s point: people aren’t going to change; the economy isn’t going to change, at least not overnight. I do need to purchase a watch and a bra and toilet paper from somewhere, right?

That said, without idealism, how can we move ahead? Moreover, how can we take on the third arm of that familiar green triangle — the one that encourages us to reduce, reuse, recycle? We seem to have our heads around the latter two. It’s that pesky first, the one that picks at our modus operandi, that we tend to overlook.

The way I see it, we’ve been foisting Dorfman’s sacrifice onto the planet — its oil, its land, its water, its inhabitants — for a long time running. Maybe now it’s time for us to take the hit. Sacrifice a little. Buy one pair of jeans (organic cotton, sweatshop-free hemp, etc.). Groove on that green triangle in toto.

Check out Hesse’s article in-full. Your thoughts?

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