Light green is the new black. Or the new definition of environmentalism.

The New York Times style section today has an article called "Greening Up with the Joneses", about lifestyle choices that people are making based on their desires to consume less energy. In some cases, these choices may revolve around people's cars, or it may have to do with the kinds of appliances they buy. The underlying theme of this article is that today's middle class isn't necessarily going all out in their environmentalism, but they are making some choices that reflect their conscience. The NYT is calling these people "light greens":
The trick, Mr. Brotherton said, was not to give up nice things, but to buy nice things that were ecologically sound. "I don't even pretend to be a hard-core environmentalist," Mr. Brotherton explained. "But I do aspire to be a 'light green' kind of guy -- one who thinks carefully about the choices I make as a consumer and tries to tread as lightly on the planet as possible, within my chosen lifestyle."
In other words, "light greens" are people who live within the realm of today's society but try to cut down where they can. One woman near Washington DC who has an 11-mile commute decided not to sell her Toyota 4Runner, but rather carpool with a friend, because, as she said, "I realized if I sold my S.U.V. it would just be bought by someone else who would almost certainly drive it a lot more than I would." Those Brothertons remodeled their kitchen, but did it using "'sustainably harvested' cork floors, recycled glass tiles, and sturdy countertops made -- to the surprise of their friends -- from recycled paper."

If these people are merely "light greens", then what is a true environmentalist in this country? Do you have to live in a log cabin with no running water and no electricity? In fact, the people featured in this article are the paragon of treehuggers, if the new definition of treehuggers is defined by the lifestyle website that gets an awful lot of hits these days.

They even have Carl Pope weigh in:

Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club, said that if the buzzword for traditional environmentalists is conservation, for the newest converts -- the light greens -- it's efficiency. "It's about getting better results from the same behavior," Mr. Pope said. So while these newly minted environmentalists are not overhauling their lives, many are trying to edit them.

Now, I have never met Mr. Pope, but my guess is that his home in Berkeley, CA has running water and electricity, and all of those modern amenities like a refrigerator, microwave, internet, water heater, and so on. He may even drive a car. Even if every one of his appliances is the most EnergyStar efficient that he could find, doesn't this still fit into the "light green" rubric rather than "hard-core environmentalist"?

Still, what Mr. Pope says should be addressed within the context of the article. He makes a distinction between "conservation" and "efficiency", and perhaps the appropriate reflection of "light green" is people like the Brothertons, who still have their nice remodeled kitchen but who did it using sustainable materials. Perhaps that's the right distinction to make, but my interpretation of the article is that the author is conflating the Brothertons with the woman who stopped using air conditioning in her home altogether, or the guy who lives in an apartment in downtown Charlotte, NC and drives a Vespa. The latter group of people are choosing to conserve, and if more people took these medium-sized actions, we'd be in a better place environmentally.

If you take this article to the extreme, The New York Times sets up an unfair implication. One interpretation is that if you don't eschew the amenities of modern life, you are not an environmentalist, you're only a watered-down "light green". To me, the point of environmentalism is not to return a to pre-industrial and pre-green revolution lifestyle. The point is to keep as many advances as we can while making them sustainable.* If someday we're going to run out of affordable gasoline, the answer is not to get rid of your car and become a farmer. The answer is to resituate the human environment—someday for everyone—so that we can live close to work. The answer, as peakguy said earlier this week, is to rezone residential areas so they're mixed use and amenities are within walking distance. No environmentalist is advocating getting rid of electricity, or our precious internet, or our refrigerators. The guy who chooses to live in a downtown Charlotte, NC is green, not a mere "light green".

Right now, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit. There are many ways to continue our lifestyles while getting rid of the extravagance and excess. No one needs to live in a 6000 sq ft house and drive a Hummer. In my opinion, the goal should be to lengthen the peak oil plateau as long as possible while we work to find alternatives, not cut ourselves off preemptorily while returning to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

*As usual, I don't want to hear it about Jevons paradox. Whenever people bring that up, it seems to have the ring of "Well, why should we bother with conservation, and trying to convince others to conserve, since it just means that there'll be more for someone else to waste, and they will, too!" While a large scale education campaign promoting conservation may be a pipe dream, many people now argue that the only way to slow down the consumption of fossil fuels is personal and corporate conservation efforts. And that—at least the personal part—is what I'm writing about.

The Roper Group did a report some years ago for S.C. Johnson, later updated as the Green Gauge Report. Here's how they segment the American population:

*True-blue greens 9% (pure environmentalists)
*Greenback greens 6% (willing to spend a bit more for eco-friendliness, roughly like light greens)
*Sprouts 31% (minimal pro-environmental behaviours)
*Grousers 19% (some anti-environmental attitudes)
*Basic browns 33%

So, basically 15% of the American population is doing something positive environmentally--and even those fall far short of sustainable (as most of us do ...). There's work to do.

I think this points out the paradox of our times. Because we have so distorted our infrastructure to accomodate our auto fetish and consumerist throw-away lives, it is almost impossible to switch to a sustainable lifestyle without being rich. It simply costs too much money to buy land and have enough time to set up a farm. For the vast majority of Americans, a life of Ho-Hos and basic cable is the only choice. They may be able to cut down on their energy use and consumption, and will certainly have to in the future, but they will not be able to dramatically change the way they live without a vast social dislocation.

I hear of those people who manage to make it out of the city into small "farms," but they are rarely poor or even middle-class people. What will the nation do when it needs to shift our paradigm not for the few but for the many? A gradual transformation seems appropriate, but that requires central planning -- something that the ideologically driven lemmings are unwilling to undertake. Are we doomed, should the Saudi's suddenly find themselves bombed by Iran? Are we doomed, should Chavez ink a deal with China and the tankers majestically change course?

I know this site has a propensity to happy talk, the kind we use to reassure our children when the tornado is ripping up the out-buildings and we sit huddled in the shelter, but I think there must be a plan for an emergency oil shut down. The right single event, or combination of events, could plunge the nation into chaos. There must be a plan.

I agree with you, Cherenkov. There needs to be a plan. But like Simmons said, there is no Plan B.

FEMA needs to be building large agricultural work camps so that people who lose their homes in suburbia will have a place to go ... for them and their children.

It would be the height of irresponsibility not to have something like this in place. People can't ALL move out to live on Uncle Pete's old farmstead.

Seems your idea has already been thought of. I'm sure some labor in the fields can be worked into this program.
Homeland Security Contracts for Vast New Detention Camps
News Analysis/Commentary, Peter Dale Scott,
New America Media, Feb 08, 2006

Editor's Note: A little-known $385 million contract for Halliburton subsidiary KBR to build detention facilities for "an emergency influx of immigrants" is another step down the Bush administration's road toward martial law, the writer says.

BERKELEY, Calif.--A Halliburton subsidiary has just received a $385 million contract from the Department of Homeland Security to provide "temporary detention and processing capabilities.....
For rest of article:

Well, thank God they have a plan ...

FEMA needs to be building large agricultural work camps so that people who lose their homes in suburbia will have a place to go ... for them and their children.

Maybe that's why the government is promoting
bio-fuels .. They know the EREOI is low and
when the fuel supply gets constrained lots
of manual labor is going to be required to
tend/harvest/process/transport the bio-crops

Triff @

the whole article here is a strawman argurement.
i find it kind of sickining that you would call enviromentalists ludites who hate everything modern.
also running out of gasoline will effect allot more then just your personal car..
The "unfair implication" isn't bad at all, IMO. Since the 1980s, the right has attempted - with distressing success - to make the term "environmentalist" synonymous with "environmental extremist." So this is a good development from a Lakoffian framing perspective: The idea of "light green" is emphatically mainstream.

Also, my experience is that even lighter green behavior than the Times describes can lead to more serious conservation. After buying a Toyota Prius last year, my wife and I were expecting to bask in the warm glow of pious self-satisfaction; instead, that damn car sat in the driveway like Poe's tell-tale heart, a constant reminder that there was much more we could do to reduce our energy and resource consumption. We're now aiming to cut our household energy consumption in half by 2010 - and it shouldn't be that difficult.

(Of course, regular visits to TOD have also helped convince us that reducing our environmental footprint is not something to put off! ;-)

Confucious said about 2500 years ago that if you want to correct the world you must first correct the nation, and that if you want to correct the nation you must first correct the family and that if you wish to correct the family you must first correct yourself. This is a spiritual truism, Jesus said about the same thing when He suggested that you need to first take the beam from your eye if you want to take the splinter from your neighbors eye. Have a little mercy about late converts to the cause. We should even take people that are just green around the gills, cause the whole world has to change. If they feel that they have to be called light green to avoid saying that they were wrong,let 'em. It isn't going to hurt anybody and lots of people will become green if they feel that changing a rigid point of view has no negative consequences.  
Just wanted to say 'right on'. To get through this with as much of our art and civilization intact as we can, we'll need to work together. Even small steps help, because they lead to bigger steps, and that's how you start walking the walk.

The more energy devoted to screaming gloom and doom, the more energy is wasted that could be used to do something good. If everyone on TOD got out there and started working in their neighborhoods for square foot gardens at public schools, for example, or lobbying school districts to install solar panels on the roofs of said schools so that they're energy neutral -- heck, I bet you could even find some big corporations who'd be pleased to sponsor $20k in solar panels for a school, just for the tax write-off and the photo op with some cute kids.

The first step to adapting to a new way of life is changing the way people think. That means small steps that get them starting to think about energy, not great big proclamations of doom that make them shove their heads into the sand. (Even if those proclamations are true and accurate.)

People can do more than one thing at once; it's possible to be pro-conservation, and pro-efficiency, and pro a lot of things.

"Consume less, and if you consume, go for efficiency, etc."

I'll bet that the elitist approach against "light" green is as old as environmentalism. People forget way too quickly that they themselves probably started as "light green" (unless their parents raised them a certian way from birth, which is a minority of people). But once the seed is planted in as many people as possible, even if it starts "light", then progress will become a lot more possible than if we just expect people to go from totally oblivious to "heavy" green.

more environmentalist existential anxiety:

not that we shouldn't be having these discussions, just that the have been goin' on awhile.

IMHO, if more people start going "light green", more power to them. But there does need to be a realization and a distinction in the framing of such behaviors -- that as personally laudable as they may be, they're still NOT sustainable. Thus increasing green consumerism (at least a la green kitchen remodeling and green fancy-clothes-buying) should be far from a main focus of energy in our attempts at change.

Light green is a conscious choice. Dark green will most likely be imposed by geology. Hopefully they will reinforce eachother. A mosaic of many shades of green, some chosen and some imposed is unfolding between social economic classes, cultures, countries, individuals.  
Exactly--"Light green is a conscious choice".  It is like the difference between Efficiency (getting the same performance or utility for less energy), Conservation (voluntarily sacrificing utility to save energy), and Demand Destruction (involuntarily sacrificing utility to save energy).

If we can at least get a large number of people to do just a little in the way of conservation, that is as good or better than a few people doing a lot.  We also need to educate people better to recognize the alternatives out there (e.g. compact fluourescent bulbs, especially now that they have the warm-white colors) really involve no sacrifice in utility (except the modicum of effort to find something that is not sold at Walmart).

I know Jevon's paradox and all that but action now will hopefully moderate the downslope.

This is a topic I've thought about a lot, and I think one thing we all need to keep in mind is that environmental impact of our buying decisions is determined by use of a thing, not just what it is.

I currently drive a minivan, which I bought so I could do arts and crafts shows with my woodworking business.  That business is gone, but the van is still here, and gets driven about 2,700 miles/year, as I work from a home office.  About the only way it makes sense to sell the van and buy something like a Fit or xA (and therefore start a whole new round of depreciation) is if you assume I'll be driving a LOT more than I do now or that gasoline will zoom in price.  

So, for now I've decided to keep the van, drive with a very light foot, leave the 2nd and 3rd row seats int he garage to lighten the vehicle, and try not to feel too guilty.  I'm hoping to hang onto it as a "bridge" vehicle until EV's go mainstream, which should be in another 4 or 5 years--about the length of time it will take me to put one normal year of miles on the van.

I have no idea what color that makes my choices, but I think it's a reasonable tradeoff.

I am in a very similar situation with respect to what I drive. I have a 4WD pickup. In the winter, conditions here can be pretty treacherous. I had a Ford Ranger prior to this vehicle, but it didn't survive my first winter here. I could probably come up with a more fuel efficient choice that works, but I normally drive less than 5,000 miles a year. When I do drive, I stick to about 60 mph. I never run the AC in my truck, and try not to in my house.

My house has compact fluorescents throughout. In the winter, I put an extra layer of clothes on. In the summer, I open up the windows. I know you can't get away with that in a place like Houston, but that's one reason I don't live in Houston.  


Hello RR & fello TODers,

My "light green" conversions are much like yours.  Here in Phx, just today, I finally turned on the swamp cooler.  No heat needed last winter, just an extra sweater, and when it started warming up: we would open the kitchen and bedroom arcadia doors after sundown to nightly cool the house sufficiently to keep the heat at bay during the day. Yet most people in Phx have been running their A/C units for several months now, and it is not even hot yet!  Now that the night-time temperatures are starting to elevate, running our swamp cooler is still much cheaper than running an A/C unit, and the upducts in each room ventilate the rafter space to help cool the entire house [if you keep the doors and windows closed].  An A/C unit just recycles the stale air inside the house, and has to work that much harder than a swamp cooler because the rafter space gets very hot here in Phx adding heat to the inside rooms.  I prefer the fresh filtered swamp air and the cost savings, but I have been unsuccessful in convincing my neighbors to convert over.  At least they do not have air-conditioned garages for their cars like some wealthy residents do!

I went from a '95 4.3 liter V-6 shortbed GMC pickup to a recently purchased used 2004 0.580 liter Honda Silverwing scooter for nearly all my transportation needs--quadrupling my fuel savings, and having a lot more fun too.  =)  I just have minimal liability coverage on the pickup and only use it when I need to haul something too bulky for my scooter.  Most residents here are still caught up in their SUVs with the A/C on full blast, but I hope most will soon become 'light green' from rising fuel prices and join me on scooters, mopeds, motorcycles, and bicycles for most of their commutes and errands.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Hi Bob,

Last summer I bought a Kawasaki 125 cruiser bike for my short jaunts to town. Actually I bought it from a guy down there in Mesa almost new.

It works great for 90 percent of my trips, and gets about 90 miles per gallon. Occasionally I fire up my restored 1986 Toyota pickup if I need to haul something.

For any longer trips we take my wife's '96 Honda Civic Hatchback, which will get about 40 miles a gallon if one drives conscientiously.

The Kawasaki is definitely a lot of fun, especially since my four-mile trip is on very scenic and empty back roads.

Hello Don in Colorado,

Phx is probably one of the worst 'walkable' cities in the world when it comes to meeting the daily needs of its citizens, and the ever increasing sprawl is only going to make things worse in the future when we need to localize everything as much as possible.  Even I realize that my scooter is only a temporary 'bridge' to what really needs to be done, but our area leaders are totally clueless, or totally in the pockets of infinite growth advocates [Westexas's Iron Triangle].

Consumers will change and modify habits as prices skyrocket, but eventually they run into the 'wall' of the existing infrastrucure being totally mismatched for the infrastructure requirements of the new paradigm.  The big question then is: does net energy wealth and vital biodiversity still sufficiently exist to peacefully make this final paradigm leap?  My belief is that most US cities will not be able to afford this final transformation-- that is why I advocate the global building of distinct biosolar habitats protected by Earthmarines.

If our national leaders even merely discuss the building of these habitats: it will be a huge wakeup call for the masses that a paradigm shift is coming, and they will start Powerdown much more willingly and cooperatively.  The more gradual this shift can occur-- the less overall violence will occur.

There is much speculation on TOD whether the Halliburton subsidiary KBR, and their govt. contract for camps will be harsh concentration camps for the poor and severely indebted, or for illegal immigrants, or for those protesting against the existing status quo of the infinite growth paradigm.  I would hope the elites would build these camps in geographic areas that incorporate the best future estimates of sustainable biodiversity and instead accept the pioneer Powerdowners like Richard Rainwater and those of much less wealth willing to jumpstart the next paradigm.  Time will tell.

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Interesting that while identifying oneself as a green consumer or the normal careless consumer is open for debate, the one thing that no one seems to be able step away from is the identity as a consumer.  Is it possible that we could think of consumption as something unfortunate that happens, but not be our reason for existance?  Can we not be friends, nieghbors, citizens, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, etc. BEFORE we are consumers?  Is shopping so important?

Will "shop til you drop" be our response to PO?  

someone observed the use of "consumer" as a near-replacement for "citizen."
thats because citizen implys duties you must do, mainly keeping informed so you can keep your elected officals in check. this is a full time job with no pay and no off time. not a very apealing job to people who like things esay.
while consumer implys that all you need to do is just do esay things like buy that fancey object you want. no need to think about the people you elect, the tv will do that for you so you can go on buying things and being happy.
Worse than that, shopping has become a duty.  Weren't we told after 9/11 that the most important thing we could do was keep shopping?

We identify ourselves by the corporations and products we buy - you're a Ford guy, or a Bud guy, or whatever.  We advertise for them for free.  We display our social prowess by how skilled at buying things we are.  IMO, many people seem to identify with corporations more than they do their government.    

Sorry for the rant, I just think that these kinds of confused thought processes will make it that much harder to deal with the issues we face.

We're humans.  We live on a planet that provides us resources. We consume these resources.  The easier the resources are to get, the more readily we consume them.  It's part of our nature, buried deep in our DNA.  To not consume goes against hundreds of thousands of years of evolution.  To not consume is hard.

Hard-core environmentalists shouldn't get too self-righteous about their "dark-green" ways.  If they see others coming around, great. It takes time, patience, and encouragement.

Still, I chuckle when I hear "greens" justify the guzzlers they still own :)

An interesting thing, Consume, is that those people who practice Buddhist things like consciousness meditation, or "wakefulness" as they call it, don't really seem to care about consuming stuff very much.

So consumerism may actually just be a "learned" habit that only people who are sort of "hypnotized" by marketing participate in.

I remember back in the '70s when it was hoped that Buddhist philosophy would come to North America and save us from the shallow life of mass consumerism.

I always thought traditional Japanese homes, with their beauty and simplicity and connection to gardens, would be a wonderful way to live in the world (so I built one), but for some reason, America got hooked into highly mortgaged, $500,000 McMansions instead.

yea. that kind of mentality is the worst. i see it the most with computers..
Shopping is now the modern equivalent of hunting and gathering. How proficient you are at it is as important in the modern sense of the world as how effective you were at hunting and gathering was for our distant ancestors.
Somebody has to counter this "light green" stuff, so I suppose I'll do it. Essential reading is Post-Soviet Lessons for a Post-American Century by Dimitry Orlov. This a (long) sobering piece which makes a mockery of "light green".

American culture needs a major restructuring and using your car less or doing "smart" consuming is not going to cut the mustard. For example, Orlov talks about how deserted suburbs were just stripped down for their useable parts, the copper wiring, the appliances, etc. in the abandoned houses. And so on. I don't like to throw out this splash of cold water, but we are one big oil shock away from something like a Soviet-style collapse. And Russia's "comeback" has been fueled (pun intended) by it's still considerable oil & natural gas resources. The US has no such resources. What we do have are an unsustainable current account deficit, trade deficit, no working health care, a deteriorating education system, more people in jail than any other country, a coming housing bubble, a currency which is becoming devalued....

It's hard to live with helplessness. 'nuff said.

sorry, Dave

Orlov is the bracing shot of cold water needed about now; the discussion was about to take off on gossamer wings, debating the finer shades of green enviromentalists....none of the "dark browns" in my ciyt and neighborhood are about to change their behavior one bit until they are forced to.  

Not a lot of change that I've seen yet either...

Full size trucks and SUVs racing around 20 mph above the speed limit and probably 30 mph above what makes sense at $3 + per gallon gas.

I was naive enough to think a big jump in gas prices might spur some kind of mass conversion - a 'we've seen the light" moment - and to be fair there are some who I notice seem to be a bit more mellow...  

But overall I think increasing the price of gas was like ratcheting up the speed and the incline of the treadmill so things almost seems more frantic - with people starting to have to sprint rather than jog now.

Yeah, I havn't seen much change.  Barb and I came across the state of Florida this AM.  I did 62 on the Interstate to try to be a little conservative.  Everyone whizzed past us (It was Sunday, no less).  I'll believe we are serious when we go back to the 55 limit from the last oil go-round.  Wouldn't that be a hoot?  Conservation and sanity on our roads at the same time!

As for the Greens, at least it is a start.  I hope for more.

Orlov is not bad. We do all have a lot to learn from what happened in the Soviet Union. The underlying reason was something I would like to call "EROEI creep".

The Soviet economy was obviously allmost all the time in a deep and serious energy crisis. It could be seen everywhere but the Soviet or Western economists could not see it. In the statistics (and in reality) the Soviet energy supply grew at a very high pace (about 8% yearly in average). This should have been enough to get to the Chinese road leading to a strong and developed economy (remember, the foundation of present China was laid during the Maoist times).

What really happened? The net energy supply was not increasing at the same pace as the gross energy supply. The EROEI was constantly deteriorating, especially in coal mining. It is possible that the EROEI of additional coal production in Donbass region (the main coal region of the SU) was less than 1 in the end (so negative net energy gain). Transport costs were sky high - as the new energy sources were geographically very far from the consumption (remember land, not sea routes), energy lost in transport increased (it might have been 30 - 50% in some cases). The oil production in Russia has exceptionally low EROEI even now.

In this situation the country was in a vicious circle: to alleviate the energy shortage everything was done to increase the energy production. So more and more (energy) was invested in it, but the output was of lower quality and EROEI lower and lower. This way the efforts to increase energy supply only deteriorated the situation.

The Soviet economy was in permanent crisis situation and could not afford to liberalize (the Chinese did have). The energy shortage caused production and transport disruptions, pushed to lower the quality of production etc. (Try to use less fuel in making steel and you get only soft iron - and you must use more bad than good steel to make constructions - and so you have to increase the steel production...).

The point here is that EROEI creep is hideous but disastrous. Economists cannot see it in statistics (coal production is up 1 million tons and this shows in energy statistics - but it took so much electricity to produce those extra million tons that in fact net energy gain was only 0.5 million tons - and this doesn't show). It can cause a lot of symptoms but the cause remains in the dark. And it can hit anybody. Ethanol and biofuels are a good example - a try to increase fuel production with a low EROEI.

Interesting post, TI.

Add the disasterous invasion of Afghanistan and the collapse of oil revenue and you've got a former Soviet Union.

Sounds like the U.S. to me.

The point here is that EROEI creep is hideous but disastrous. Economists cannot see it in statistics (coal production is up 1 million tons and this shows in energy statistics - but it took so much electricity to produce those extra million tons that in fact net energy gain was only 0.5 million tons - and this doesn't show). It can cause a lot of symptoms but the cause remains in the dark. And it can hit anybody. Ethanol and biofuels are a good example - a try to increase fuel production with a low EROEI.

You get one strong signal that something is wrong in a market economy. This coal will be very expensive since so much expensive electricity were used in its production. And electricity from coal will be more expensive since coal is expensive, and so on. Those very simple signals did not excist in the sovjet union.

A sign of thing to come?? I would like nothing more than to find about 160 acres and see how well I could sustain a normal lifestyle..

No Bar Code

An evangelical Virginia farmer says a revolution against industrial agriculture is just down the road.
the condo complex i live in could take a couple hundred avacado trees, without really even changing the landscaping.
that's going to be "silly" though, until food and/or fuel start to become truly "dear."

(quotes above to show community perceptions)

more power to you if you can manage the traditional small farm, but in a 10-30 year process of energy adjustment, there are a lot of little things (like community gardens) that can bring calorie production closer to home.

I think today's middle class will not voluntarily cut their energy use more than about 20%. It may be fashionable to cycle commute in fine weather, but not in driving rain. Many tree huggers seem to have convenient blind spots, for example the greenhouse impact of air travel.  In particular eco-optimists who talk of replacing fossil fuels with wind and solar haven't crunched the numbers. The reality check will come in the next few years.
  We ALL have 'convenient blind spots', we are also tied to an existing system, and can't just jump out of the sandbox.

  I heat my house with #2 heating oil, but have enough roof area to do the job with evacuated tubes, in a city with decent insolation pretty much year-round.  That would be a direct replacement of oil with solar (incl Solar electric control/pumping), and this can be replicated throughout the Heating-Oil dependant Northeast, or the Gas Dependant regions, as well.

  I don't hear many alt-energy advocates suggesting that a changover to Renewables would not also entail signifigant reductions in our energy-using habits and infrastructure.  I do hear statements to the effect that 'Idaho could be the Saudi Arabia of wind' and such, but I understand that to mean the potential is there, not that we have the mfg or economic base to implement it painlessly.

You don't solve overconsumption by buying different things. The entire consumerist paradigm is not sustainable, so buying 'green' things accomplishes nothing.

This is my first thought. It is not completely true. You do have to take from the environment to live. Since this is true, we do have to find a sustainable path, and I do say find, as there have been very, very few human societies that have found a truly sustainable path.

A first step (and relatively easy) would be to return to ideas of Yankee thrift and 'cheapness' that I remember as a child in the 70s and even early 80s when times were bad. People dropped a bunch of money on tools from Sears, but they took care of them; same as with any other object. I remember clipping coupons with my mother and mailing in rebates, and being in general very careful about purchases. But the consumerist drumbeat has intensified by many orders of magnitude since that time; more important than that, is there is no longer a countervoice opposing it in any significant way. The concept of saving is foreign to Americans, at least, as our negative savings rate shows.

As an aside, as others have noted, you have to be wealthy in order to be deeply green. Who else can build their bermed house with solar panels? I can afford energy star appliances, ride the bus, and not turn the heat on.

To me, "light green" implies buying things - a new style of consumerism.  It has pros & cons, as described in the other comments.  

What interests me is deep cultural change.  What Donella Meadows has called "the mindset or paradigm out of which the system ... arises"

(Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System )

For example: simple Living, permaculture, relocalization, local food systems, gardening & self-sufficiency.

What these movements have in common is that they sidestep the consumerist paradigm.  Instead, they depend on knowledge, skill and social networks to satisfy needs. They also give personal satisfactions that consumerism can't provide.  

Subjectively, if you're involved in these movements one doesn't have the feeling of hopelessness and despair that are common in discussions about peak oil.

// Re: the Jevons Paradox
I did some research and found that it is known nowadays as the Rebound Effect. It is a tendency, not an absolute law, and the magnitude varies from case to case, according to the little research that seems to have been done on it. For sure, the use of the "Jevons Paradox" to shoot down conservation measures is not founded in empirical research.  It would be very useful for someone to write a definitive article on the Jevons/Rebound Effect.  

bart and dex--
Yes, light green buying is still consumption, with environmental consequences. We do need deep cultural change, but that will take decades (barring cataclysmic change). However, getting people to move their consumption in the right direction is still essential. Properly done, it does have positives [or at least fewer negatives] for the environment.

Consider the spectrum of choices. Arguably the worst are "greensham" products, making claims that are frivolous or untrue. Words like "biodegradable," "recyclable" or "natural" are often used to imply environmental friendliness that is fictitous.

On the positive side, energy-efficient durable goods have a big payoff. If someone buys a new small car, instead of a V8, the original owner uses far less fuel during his ownership--and so do all the subequent owners for the 15 year life of the car. Other items like efficient refrigerators, furnaces, and home insulation provide long-term annuities of energy savings. Compare these to true-brown items like plasma or projection TV's, which will use hundreds of watts per hour more than the old-fashioned CRT throughout their entire lifespan.  

Humans all consume, and we all do damage to the environment. Pushing (and regulating) consumption practices to create less damage will still help.

Cultural change takes A LONG time.

When I was a kid, everybody smoked cigarettes. Finally, after 40 years of government propaganda, huge sales-tax increases and putting people outside in the rain to smoke, we've gotten cigarette smokers down to what, 20 percent of the population?

I know a lot of people who will still drive gas guzzlers when fuel is $10 a gallon. They're just NOT going to quit.

Nicely put, Rick.  I'm not arguing against light-green changes, though.  I'm glad people are working on them.  I just don't think that they are the most effective place to put one's energy.

Many other people are going to be working on light-green changes.  Such changes aren't threatening and there's money to be made with them.  

There are far fewer people working on cultural change, so the effect of one person is much greater.

By their intrinsic nature, changes to the dominant paradigm are MUCH more powerful than other sorts of changes.   Donella Meadows makes this case in her paper, which I highly recommend if you're interested in social change.

As to whether cultural change takes a long time... well, it depends.  Earth-shattering cultural changes took places very quickly as a result of World War I; and then again during the Great Depression.  In my lifetime, I witnessed the shift from the sleepy conservative 50s, to the wild  60s. I have the feeling that we're in for similar disruptive shifts.

New paradigms will only be adopted if they are ready when the crises strike.

The answer is to resituate the human environment--someday for everyone--so that we can live close to work. The answer, as peakguy said earlier this week, is to rezone residential areas so they're mixed use and amenities are within walking distance.

The problem I have with rezoning efforts designed to "create a more sustainable environment" is that it is based on an underlying assumption that our current pattern of housing and development is somehow a one-time historic abberation that we have all somehow been programmed by an endless "consumerist" media to desire.

First, it's not the case; suburban sprawl was not invented west of the Rockies by Americans, but goes back thousands of years. The only thing that has limited sprawl historically was a lack of cheap and effective point-to-point transportation, not a lack of desire for people to own a small piece of real estate and live away from crowded urban centers. (If people loved crowded urban centers, wouldn't the rich historically choose to live in them as well, instead of building palaces away from it all?)

Second, by claiming that somehow we can make things better by rebuilding society through rezoning (and thus taking away decisions from individual land owners and potential home owners), we've essentially handed license to politicians and social engineers to completely restructure the living conditions of their constituents--often in ways they themselves refuse to live in. (In how many cities where urban planners try to create high-density mixed-used environments does the mayor live in a mansion on the outskirts of town?)

It's a shame, because while zoning is often necessary in order for a city to engage in sensible long-term development and growth, heavy-handed zoning is the ultimate socialist dream: it allows society to be structured in ways that individuals would never choose for themselves if they had a voice and the chance to vote with their wallet.

Third, by claiming that we must resort to rezoning efforts to create high density mixed-used environments in order to reduce energy consumption--we essentially abdicate local government's responsibility to create and stick to sensible long-term development and planning. When we as a people say to government "we don't care; do what you have to", you can bet that the placement of the next bullet train station will be in the middle of some developer's project (whose in bed with the city council), and people's overall living conditions will be made worse so that developer and his city council friends can live high off the hog.

(And I say this as someone with some familiarity with the process, not as someone who is suspictious of land developers or who thinks corporations are evil.)

To take a simple example of how long term planning could have helped things, here in Los Angeles long-term planners had planned a variety of freeway routes and expansion projects back in the 1950's which, had they stuck to those plans, would have eliminated or reduced the sort of congestion we have in Los Angeles today. Eliminate congestion, and total gasoline consumption used by people who commute to work would drop substantially: I know my own car gets 50% better gas milege (30mpg) on that rare day when I can drive without any stops to work than on a day when we're in stop and go traffic (18-20mpg).

If the entire United States had better transportation corridors, how much gas would be saved that is burned with cars in stop-and-go freeway traffic? Ten percent? Twenty?

I am constantly impressed and amazed at the quality of the writing in this blog. It's a daily "must read" for me. But when it comes to land use decisions, it sounds like you're falling into the same stereotypical thinking that probably caused you to start blogging about energy production and usage in the first place.

i largely agree, but ...

i think we, in southern california, are missing a model that is still used elsewhere: apartments upstairs, small business downstairs.

my grandparents had an apartment above their print shop.  that was in california, but build pre-freeway.  i'd guess that the combination of post-freeway car culture and zoning laws killed such combinations.

With all due respect, your complaint against mixed-use zoning makes no sense. Do you think that there's not already zoning? The situation now is that many areas are zoned to be residential only, but guess what? It's still zoning. You might even say that people are currently prevented from using the land how they best see fit, which is what you seem to be advocating. If mixed-use zoning were more prevalent, there might be more opportunity to create various kinds of communities, so that individuals could find what they prefer.

I prefer urban centers and have lived in one since I was 18 years old. You may prefer your mansion on the hill, but the way I see it, I'm going to have the last laugh in an energy-challenged world when you have to heat your giant mansion and drive 20 miles to get groceries, while I can just walk to the corner store.

Where did I say I was against mixed usage zoning?

My problem is that while the predominate theme I've seen so far here with energy usage is that we should understand the market forces and understand what's comming when it comes to energy, when it comes to zoning and land development most of the comments here have a very strong socialist theme--that is, there is a tremendous fear of the natural market place.

I find it ironic that on the one hand, with energy we should allow and understand market forces, but on the other hand, with land usage we cannot trust the market place at all and we should redesign cities en-mass so that people live the way a handful of us think is just peechy keen.

Distrust the marketplace at your own pearl--and that includes land usage issues.

Zoning per se distrust's the marketplace.  

I live in an "Old Urbanism" neighborhood and use 6 gallons/month in fuel.  Pre-Katrina half my neighboirs did not own cars. There were 5 places to buy food within 6 blocks, my tailor and insurance agent are 4 blocks away, bank & dry cleaner 3, streetcar 2 1/2 blocks away (which takes me to work, the CBD, Tulane, the French Quarter).  A multitude of bars and restaurants within walking distance, including two world class ones.

I have lived elsewhere 2 blocks from a bakery and 5 blocks from a coffee roasting plant (talk about air pollution :-).  Until two years ago, an industrial scale (1/2 city block) metal fabrication plant operated in the French Qtr.

There is a surplus, a LARGE surplus, of LA style neighborhoods where one would starve without a car.  We need exactly zero more.  We do need, for national security reasons, to create FAR more neighborhoods like mine and destroy neighborhoods like yours.  You may not like having your tailor 4 blocks away.  Well tough !

We will destroy the US economy and the global environment, go to war, in a futile effort to preserve your (not mine) "American Way of Life".  All this will just prolong it a few years longer.

You fail to grasp that we do NOT have a choice !

Consider that next March a surprising revolution in Saudi Arabia.  The new Islamic Republic of Arabia decides to only export enough oil to buy food and other necessities (no longer having to support 6,000 princes in luxury).

How will you get by on your ration of 21 gallons per month ?
I will sell you my surplus 18 gallons for $1,000, or $2,000.  That makes 39 gallons.

Woody---traditionally the rich HAVE chosen to live in "crowded urban centers".  Their stately homes in the country were used in conjunction with comfortable townhouses centrally located in cities like Paris, London, and New York.  The nice thing about being rich is that you can have your cake and eat it too.

The idea of the inner city as a residence only for the poor is the creation of the auto age.

Building more and better roads is futile - it just brings more sprawl and congestion.  It's self-defeating.

Given the investment that's been made in the burbs, the only choice I see is to turn them into actual towns, with local commercial establishments for food and other essentials, and connect them with electric rail for transportation to other areas.  The zoning will need to be adjusted.  Of course, this is not going to work everywhere, as it will never be economical to service the small subdivisions that dot the landscape everywhere (in some places).  

I have to laugh at the zoning is socialism nonsense.  Once upon a time, there were not so many people.  The number and frequency of interactions between people was much less, and we didn't so many laws and rules to tell us how to behave.  Not because people behaved better, but because it didn't cause such a huge problem when they didn't.  But that is not our world, which is why we need rules.  Zoning is also one of the only ways a community can have any control over what it's character will be, even if it's weak.  Otherwise, the corporate interests of developers will win out, destroying the land, and foisting their costs on the taxpayers who have no choice.  Yeah, I know it happens anyway.

Now, there are better and worse zoning laws.  Requiring large lots just makes the developments bigger, and the sprawl problem worse.  Planned villages make a hell of a lot more sense - many people find the lifestyle works very well, and it leaves more farmland intact.  It's far better than we each look out of our oversize Palladian window on the 2-story foyer (with the gaudy chandelier) of our McMansion, over to the sand mound next door.

But above all, stop building on good farmland!  And keep shopping!

I agree that many suburbs can be salvaged by bringing stores and workplaces into what are now just residential areas--- and usually zoned as such. One thing I have noticed over the past 20 years or so is that many new suburban housing tracts are built to a surprisingly high density. Lots sizes have been shrinking, maybe because the developer wants the most out of costly serviced land. Where the sprawl aspect comes in is that these fairly compact neighbourhoods are miles away from any amenities, even a corner store.  That is something that can be changed, and will be, I believe.
I'm surprised that in 2006 anyone would put forth the argument that the solution to highway congestion is new or better/more highways and roads. If it is any consolation, in the future you will have lots of room on the highway (if you can afford it).
But that's not what I said.

In Los Angeles, there was a long-term development plan which was designed to address today's transportation needs--a long term plan which was essentially gutted by land developers and local zoning which allowed the greed of a handful of individuals to override the responsibility of elected officials to follow a long-term and sensible development plan.

Today, because of the way things were allowed to develop over the past half century there is too much pent up demand for transportation--which gives you the ironic situation that it seems like more freeways is not the answer. The reality is that the demand for extra freeway miles is so damned high in Los Angeles that it would take a lot more construction than we could afford before supply started to quench demand.

Where I part company with most commenters here is that now that we've managed to dig ourselves a huge mess, the only answer people seem to have is to engage in a massive rezoning effort which would ultimately affect millions of people--and to do it "for their own good", rather than allow market forces (which represent the will of the people as people vote with their pocket books) to have any sway.

The right level of zoning is necessary so that you don't have situations such as breweries built next to schools. Too much, and you start taking away people's choices in the name of "helping people"--and that smacks of socialism--of the State making decisions because the people in control don't trust the very constituents who voted them into office.

Here in Britain we have pretty much the worst traffic congestion in Western Europe.  The only measurable drop in traffic we have had, and a concommitant 'intermodal shift' back onto buses (the only one recorded in recent western history, apparently) was by introducing a £8 ($12) per diem charge to drive into Central London.

We also built the first suburbs.  The modern North American suburb, as a place which was recognisably more like the countryside than the city, was created by British town planners and architects in the late Victorian period (see Bedford Park and Hampstead Garden Suburb, and a character named Ebenezer Howard).  Ideas like having no sidewalks, so the countryside seemed to blend into the city.

It found its full pure form in places like LA (Mission Viejelo) and Toronto (Don Mills) after WWII.  Before WWII the suburbs were built more around the electric streetcar (Shaker Heights in Cleveland).

It's pretty much accepted by the planners now that if you want to increase congestion, you build new suburbs with new roads.  Those suburbanites then drive onto the existing roads that connect to their new roads, and congest them.

So lies the conundrum: if you build them (the roads and subdivisions) they will come.

When the truck drivers and the farmers blockaded the fuel depots for a week over the high gasoline taxation, the whole country quickly ground to a complete halt.  Turns out almost all of the food supply is now 'just in time' to the big grocery chains, so they ran out of food.  The government hasn't dared to increase fuel taxation in the 4 years since.

For LA, there probably isn't a 'solution' now, only an amelioration.  By building more housing, more densely, near where people work.  And trying to make more provision for 'low congestion' solutions eg bike lanes.

Mixed use zoning is part of that.

Actually, if the consortium of oil companies and tire and bus manufacturers had not bought out the Red Ball Line in Los Angeles and replaced it with buses, then we may have seen an LA that has little congestion.

As far as lassiez faire zoning, we see what the result is of that: ugly cities, nice rich areas, sterile housing areas, strip malls, and every other type of development that caters to the rich developer and screws the average human.

One thing to consider is this:  our lives are designed for us to be unsustainable.

Most people make choices based on what makes them comfortable within conventional cultural assumptions.

I chose to ride bike-with-trailer, then cargo trikes and pedicabs as an effort to design my life intentionally to be more sustainable.

Now that we are in a house, we've begun the retrofit to do permacultural living as much as possible.

One thing we need is a recognition that this is a sort of spiritual conversion experience -- repentance, if you will.  We recognise a destructive pattern in our living, and choose to reject that destructive pattern and find a better, less destructive one.

Not easy or all at once, for the most part.

There are prophets and voices crying in the wilderness, there are liars and frauds, and there are many who work for the status quo because it pays well.

It is hard to change if one is dependant upon the very system or paradim that needs changing.

It is easy to judge others --as has been alluded to -- while justifying one's own inconsistencies.

It is also easy to get stuck in pseudo-change, which is always comfortable and not really challenging the status quo at all.

We need to have conversations about this on an ongoing basis, and to challenge ourselves, each other, and our culture to change quite radically and quite soon.

Being the change will be more effective as talking the change.  The most effective process for change will be a combination of being the change and talking about the need for change in various ways and venues, eh?

Just a couple of trivial examples of 'efficient' consumption:I have a Campagnolo (bicycle) pumphead I purchased new in 1965 for $0.50. Works every time, still on the original gasket. Also Karrimor Bardale saddlebag, purchased 1965, still in perfect condition. Karrimor Lowdale saddlebag, 1966, still perfect.
Non-bicycle: I have owned one umbrella my entire adult life. Italian, purchased 1973 for $17.95. ivory-colored cover with carved olivewood handle, has never inverted (even when gusts blow out every other 'brolly on busy streets) always gets compliments, all small plated parts still perfect.
I remember a pair of Cole-Haan shoes that were beautiful for ten years and serviceable as work shoes for another 5 before I finally let them go. Don't think Cole-Haan has those shoes anymore.
I could write a long time about antiques and heirlooms and gsrage sale finds but probably everyone on this site could. Oh yes, I own and work daily with tools my great-uncle and great-grandfather made. These things are all objects of consumption but they are more important to us than the crap that's sold at Walmart. We can live entirely without the crap from Walmart and the Walmart parking lot and the ThisWayToWalmart Freeway.
I have visited TOD religiously for the last 4 months, along with other sites that describe the conditions leading to peak oil and the need for a soft landing when it arrives.  As the alternatives are discussed I am struck by how similar all this sounds to the conversations in Santa Fe in the late seventies.  Community was the central focus and how to get off the grid was the common goal.  When the fashion industry discovered Santa Fe and Taos all that fell between the cracks and designer homes took the place of energy self reliance.  Do I dare mention that many of the conventions that hippies got started: organic grocery stores and passive solar homes for example, are now the fare of the very well to do and green in leanings.  In short the development of Northern New Mexico then was a microcosm of all the post peak expectations of what we need to be thinking about in the here and now.  Most of us that made that psychic investment have been forced to do something else and few will even admit to having once been so idealistic.  I for example, sponsored the design of a new city for 60,000 people in the early seventies where cars would be parked under the city.  The project was included in a book called "Unbuilt America, From Thomas Jefferson to the Space Age." It was the time of "Small Is Beautiful" and many of those who were unhappy with the war in Viet Nam dropped out hoping to find in this community a more manageable environment.

What I am saying is that underneath much of the failed idealism of the sixties lies some rather noble adventures in shared life styles that contemporary problem solvers would be well to attend to.  We all know now that the love affair with cheap oil created this bandwagon and; outside of Cuba, there aren't that many examples of successful ventures that didn't `play ball' with the petro dollar.  I'm sure there are few of you that have ever heard of The Center for Appropriate Technology.  It formed as a policy-making organization at the London School of Economics to deal with the third world.  Now that we are faced with the likelihood of a less resilient future it might be wise to look into what failed instead of blindly aping the characteristics of those who got us where we are now.  

I loved the "solar adobe" movement in northern New Mexico in the 1970s, That was before you got to go on your "Magic Journey," if you know what I mean ...

I always thought the only way out of this predicament (that didn't involve nightmares) would be a gentle movement to a smaller population and the adoption of E.F. Schumacker and appropriate technology as a way of living.

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction."
-- E. F. Schumacker

There's a highway ad by Ford for the Escape Hybrid with the caption "I guess it's easy being green", which would seem to fit this mindset. It tries to give people the comfortable feeling that they really don't have to make any real sacrifice, just a few small changes and life can go on as usual. It's not true, of course.
re: enforced greening.

Becoming unemployed made me a darker green.

A disposable income drop of 90%+.

Not one significant 'new' purchase in two years.

Enforced saving = Enforced greening.

Just a couple of trivial examples of 'efficient' consumption:I have a Campagnolo (bicycle) pumphead I purchased new in 1965 for $0.50. Works every time, still on the original gasket. Also Karrimor Bardale saddlebag, purchased 1965, still in perfect condition. Karrimor Lowdale saddlebag, 1966, still perfect.
Non-bicycle: I have owned one umbrella my entire adult life. Italian, purchased 1973 for $17.95. ivory-colored cover with carved olivewood handle, has never inverted (even when gusts blow out every other 'brolly on busy streets) always gets compliments, all small plated parts still perfect.
I remember a pair of Cole-Haan shoes that were beautiful for ten years and serviceable as work shoes for another 5 before I finally let them go. Don't think Cole-Haan has those shoes anymore.
I could write a long time about antiques and heirlooms and gsrage sale finds but probably everyone on this site could. Oh yes, I own and work daily with tools my great-uncle and great-grandfather made. These things are all objects of consumption but they are more important to us than the crap that's sold at Walmart. We can live entirely without the crap from Walmart and the Walmart parking lot and the ThisWayToWalmart Freeway.