Green Like Them

Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker on the literary – and I use the term loosely – phenomenon that is eco-living as an extreme lifestyle:

The basic setup of “No Impact Man” is, by this point, familiar. During the past few years, one book after another has organized itself around some nouveau-Thoreauvian conceit. This might consist of spending a month eating only food grown in an urban back yard, as in “Farm City” (2009), or a year eating food produced on a gentleman’s farm, as in “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” (2007). It might involve driving across the country on used cooking oil, as in “Greasy Rider” (2008), or giving up fossil fuels for goats, as in “Farewell, My Subaru” (2008).

All of these stunts can be seen as responses to the same difficulty. Owing to a combination of factors—population growth, greenhouse-gas emissions, logging, overfishing, and, as Beavan points out, sheer self-indulgence—humanity is in the process of bringing about an ecological catastrophe of unparalleled scope and significance. Yet most people are in no mood to read about how screwed up they are. It’s a bummer. If you’re the National Academy of Sciences or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the Pope or Al Gore, you can try to fight this with yet another multivolume report or encyclical. If not, you’d better get a gimmick.

And we wonder why people move onto other, more pressing matters. Writers are always looking for angles – society rewards I’ll-get-mine all the time – and as she wittily describes, this is what these folks are doing. It’s as American as the three car garage. Fine. Cashing in. You know, Green. I get it.

Yuk-yuk. It reminds me that, despite the trends, there are more interesting things to write books and make moves about* and these are the mere trifles of people who sit in writers’ workshops and mfa programs, trying to think of the next big book idea. They’re smart and well-trained so I’m not surprised that they figure out the caricature, which seems to arrive pre-mocked. Just don’t go meta and get too depressed by what they write/film; the writers, their agents and editors will lose interest with this and move onto something else before too long.

*There are even stories to write and film that have never been written about or filmed before.