A reluctant recycler

We recycle at our house. We wash the cans and bottles and remove the labels. We stack the Wall Street Journal by the door and carry out the compost.

The “we” here means Katie. I’m extremely reluctant to wash something that was designed to be thrown away, although I will carry things off to the recycling centers and landfills. Sometimes we do this together and call it a date.

But I keep telling her when she dies I’m calling the garbage company right after I call the undertaker. Then I can throw everything in one big can like everybody else.

This is a joke. I would probably keep doing what we’re doing. Stewardship is an important biblical mandate and it makes sense to reduce and reuse our waste.

But we are not Green with a capital G.

Take the Gaia people, for example, a new age movement devoted to Mother Earth. For them floods, fires and other natural disasters result from our eco-hubris. (I’m not sure about earthquakes.)

They are easy to make fun of, and Brendan Neill, an agnostic critic over at spiked-online.com does a nice job, although he is mocking Christians at the same time. He writes: “These days it is not acceptable to present terrible acts of nature as manifestations of God’s divine fury, but it is de rigueur to depict them as some kind of climatic payback for our greed and addiction to consumerism.”

But in “Green Guilt“, a more reasonable essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Stephen Asma argues that environmentalists can come across as self-righteously as the most repressive religionist.

A philosophy professor at Columbia University Chicago, Asma writes:

Instead of religious sins plaguing our conscience, we now have the transgressions of leaving the water running, leaving the lights on, failing to recycle, and using plastic grocery bags instead of paper. In addition, the righteous pleasures of being more orthodox than your neighbor (in this case being more green) can still be had—the new heresies include failure to compost, or refusal to go organic.

It even manifests itself in apocalyptic visions (see the Gaia people above) and neurotic guilt. He has students who believe the earth would be better off without us. He writes “in this extreme form one does not seek to reduce one’s carbon footprint so much as eliminate one’s very being.”

Asma, whose six-year-old son now turns the lights out on his father, even when he is using them, believes this creates a world where we can vent our aggression “as long as its justified by piety and the defense of [environmental] virtue and orthodoxy.”

In the end, Asma, author of the upcoming book Why I Am a Buddhist, wants to save the planet after all, as long as we temper our “natural propensity toward guilt and indignation.”

As for me, I’m content to let God save the planet, or at least the people in it. And I’ll be responsible for his creation without being neurotic about it. What’s a few more cans to wash in the grand scheme of things? I just think there are more important stories to tell and more dangerous sins to overcome.

But it kind of makes me want to call the garbage truck after all.

4 thoughts on “A reluctant recycler”

  1. Well said! We practice “moderate” conservation around here. We do what we can; we do without what we can. We have raised the kids to be aware without being self-righteous … be it environmentally, religiously, or any other “…ly”. Thanks again for you time last night! It’s always challenging and fun to hang with you guys … twenty-five years hasn’t changed that a bit!

  2. In Steven Leavitt’s recent book, ‘Super Freakonomics,’ he cites research showing that climate change would still happen if the world went carbon neutral tomorrow. He also shows that scientists could also prevent global warming for 250 million dollars — less than Al Gore’s ad campaign.

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