Green symbols and reality

"Green" has become a potent symbolic term. But what does it mean? Less carbon for the same output? Less forest harvested, less water polluted, less solid waste produced? A less-damaged web of life, of which we are an integral part?

The word mostly seems to refer to a set of visible practices that announce the practitioner as part of a specific status community. Those outside that status community thus feel it essential to denigrate those same practices as useless or even pernicious, which makes even less sense.

As always, though, the visible practices are just proxies or indicators of the underlying benefits. Thus, if you can achieve the proxy without the underlying benefit, at lesser cost, you are rewarded. This is true whenever you try to incent some complex behavior by picking an indicator. You get more of the indicator, but not necessarily more of the beneficial behavior.

So you get such difficulties as the fact that, in printing, green is an environmentally hazardous color, containing damaging halogens or toxic metal ions. But a green brochure is an indicator of virtue, regardless of the invisible damages.

My local Whole Foods for a while used wood blocks to separate purchases in the checkout line, presumably because oversensitive customers had complained about the plastic ones. I don't recall ever getting splinters from the plastic dividers, but, for a symbol, the wood blocks were startlingly hazardous.  Eventually they disappeared, presumably returned to the wild.

I like to think of myself as relatively green. Once I save a bit of carbon by biking to work and by keeping my thermostat down, I get in an airplane and fly across the country to deposit my bodily waste in environmentally sensitive areas.

I do get some lovely photographs, though.