Standing in the mail room of the retirement center, I noticed my cubby hole sported no green dot like that of my neighbor’s. Curious, I asked a woman who was passing what the dot meant. She seemed surprised by my question but answered politely. “The green dot indicates the resident prefers electronic messages rather than paper memos.
That made sense, I reasoned. Some days I get enough memos stuffed into my cubby to make me feel like a board member of Goldman Saks.
“It’s meant to save the environment,” the woman added. I nodded my approval of the idea, but for some reason a mischief overtook me. “I thought paper could be recycled.”
“Oh no.” The woman’s eyes grew large. “Not all types of paper can be recycled and those that can become trash afterwards.”
Again, I paused, taking in the information. “Okay. But what about those electronic devices that transmit emails? Don’t they use chemicals that are toxic to the environment? And don’t they end up in landfills?”
“That’s true,” the woman agreed as she prepared to leave. “But it’s also true that not all paper can be recycled.”
Feeling guilty, I stared at my cubby minus its dot as the woman departed.
To be honest, I’m confused by these inchoate plans to turn the planet green. Elizabeth Warren promises we can have green goals and a good economy at the same time. I hope she’s right. But I’m also aware her proposals require massive government intervention: a revamping of the infrastructure and environmental laws, not to mention the loss of jobs in some fields. The last time we tried that sort of restructuring, we shipped our auto industry to Mexico and threw lots of people’s lives into chaos. One reason the 2016 election went to Donald Trump may well be because of that disruption. People in the hardest hit parts of the country lost faith in government.
Don’t get me wrong. I side with Mother Nature. But here’s the puzzle. At some point in our history, the country shifted from a manufacturing economy to one that depends on consumerism. (“The Green New Deal Meets Green Republicanism,” by Win McCormack, The New Republic, Oct. 2019, pg. 68.) If consumers drive our economy, how does that dependence comport with green objectives where less means more? Can we survive the economic turbulence that might follow from having green objectives? Can Warren, and politicians who share her vision, really put the environment first and still honor their other promise? Free college tuition? Free healthcare for all? Decent affordable housing for those who need it?
Yes, I know. Scandinavians have achieved these objectives. But the U. S. A. is a big ship. Turn it around too quickly and observe how the waves thrash and threaten a tsunami. Frankly, I’m dubious a 2 cent tax on the super wealthy is going to protect us from the pain that lies ahead as we shift directions. Let us not kid ourselves. Turning green won’t be easy, dot or no dot.