Living in the Age of “Feel-Good” Citizenship or “It’s not easy being green.”

Have you noticed that in order to avoid using plastic bags we are now encouraged to bag our groceries in little green cloth bags? Have you also noticed that almost everything sold in the grocery store is packaged in plastic? Even the organic produce is put up in plastic bags. In effect, for every little green cloth bag we fill up at the grocery store, I’m guessing we carry away ten to fifteen items wrapped in plastic. Does this make any sense? There is so much on the airwaves and in the press these days about saving the environment that I feel guilty if I don’t carry my little green bag to the store every time I go, even though I know that my effort to avoid using plastic is practically useless. Even our garbage is put in plastic bags.

In the midst of ever-increasing global problems our culture has developed what I call “feel-good” citizenship as the primary solution to solve the problems that afflict us. It is old news that we must somehow deal with global warming, increased CO2 emissions, other forms of pollution, oil spills, a deteriorating infrastructure, poisoned groundwater, and decreasing resources. What is new is the ideology that has become pervasive in the wake of these overwhelming challenges to our well-being. The new ideology is related to environmentalism, though it is not identical with it. The new ideology is a kind of fake environmentalism in which we live our lives expressing a concern for the environment yet doing almost nothing for it. In this series of notes, I want to remark on several of our irrational gestures toward saving the environment which have almost no discernible positive impact. Yet, these gestures make each of us feel as if we have done our bit. This is what I call “feel-good” citizenship.

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