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Keep your hands on your wallets and read the fine print

In our editorial “Tipping points” a few weeks ago, we noted that there appears to have been a surge of pro-green sentiment lately. A recent green resolution passed by the Town of Forestburgh is another case in point, and is particularly encouraging to the extent that it reflects not only sentiment, but a commitment to action.

We have even heard through the grapevine that the Town of Liberty is thinking along similar lines, and that the two towns may engage in a friendly competition to see who can out-green whom. This, it seems to us, would be planning at its best: not only envisioning a direction in which to go, but doing it in a way that encourages people to participate. As long as green enterprises are seen as a matter of grim duty, or defense against impending catastrophe, it will be difficult to mobilize the population of the globe to take the steps necessary. What is needed is not merely education, but the type of motivation that will lead to action. A green competition between two townships would fill that bill: it’s simply more fun and energizing to do things when you’re doing them with one or more others, each vying to be the best.

Another motivator that people tend to respond to well is, of course, money.

A lot of the people who are most deeply opposed to environmentalism argue from an economic point of view: “It’s too expensive! We can’t afford it! You’ll bankrupt the country!” What this kind of attitude ignores is that, in human economic history, the periods of greatest growth have often accompanied the biggest shifts in our ways of doing things, whether from handcrafting to mass production, horse and buggy to automobile or vaudeville stage to movie and TV screen. Every time such a shift occurs there are some painful adjustments, and some industries die. But others are born, and generally speaking, the new opportunities have been broader than those lost.

Some companies finally seem to have taken note of this fact, and it is not surprising to see, as noted in Marcia Nehemiah’s first “In our hands” column on the opposite page, that “green” is becoming one of the hottest new marketing concepts.

But as good (and necessary) as it is to see this kind of momentum building, we must not let our enthusiasm overwhelm our critical faculties. Marketing, after all, is about sizzle; what is needed is steak. If our knees merely jerk when we hear the word “green,” without our taking responsibility for judging the merit of what is being sold to us, we could wind up worse off than we were before.

Take the phrase “organic.” Small farmers, like our local John Gorzynski in Cochecton, NY, who are committed to raising food truly free from pesticides, herbicides and the like, want to keep the standards for “USDA certified organic” strict. But lobbyists for large companies like WalMart, that want to take advantage of consumers’ growing “green” consciences, have weakened the terminology so they can cash in on the business without delivering the goods. According to Gorzynski, there are now 168 synthetic materials that can be used in so-called “organic” food. (Gorzynski, in protest, changed the name on his sign from “organic farmer” to “ornery farmer”.)

A presentation given by the Stockbridge-Munsees on August 14 provides another example of the need for hard questions. The tribe painted a stirring picture of the green technologies they would use to build a casino, complete with an indoor waterfall run with water recycled from the roof and fluorescent light bulbs.

A casino built with green technologies would be better than one built with old-fashioned techniques, and we’re glad to see developers working in that direction. But we shouldn’t start salivating for a casino just because a “green” dinner bell has been rung. What are the social costs and indirect environmental costs, like increased traffic? How meaningful is a switch to fluorescents by a business that generates millions of candlepower of light every night? Are we being offered a genuinely carbon-neutral enterprise, or a green veneer designed to get a product in the door?

We are happy that both government authorities and business are falling in step with the green momentum. But the term “green” needs to be an invitation to start thinking, not to stop. Whether it’s clean air, organic food or casinos, the fact that the politicians and marketers who are trying to win our favor say that they are giving us something “green” doesn’t make it so. By all means, let us play the green gameóbut let’s also keep our hands on our wallets and read the fine print.

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Dr. Punnybone

Giving It His Awl

Letters to the Editor

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A better way to support our troops

To the editor:

I suggest a different reality to that put forth by Richard Saunders in his letter in the August 16 issue of The River Reporter, “Giving too much credence to impeachment.” The “war effort where brave men and women are dying for our freedom” does not reflect reality. These men and women’s lives are being sacrificed to feed the greed which our country is attached to, a greed for power, cheap energy and an insatiable need for cheap goods.

Our country’s current administration has led us into a war of aggression on a country and its people who have not harmed us. History shows that wars of aggression are never “won” because the cause is not a moral cause and therefore not sustainable.

The rules of logic state that if the premise is false, then the conclusion will also be false. Such is the case with the Bush administration’s war, a war based on lies willingly given to Congress.