What Does “Green” Really Mean?

Lately, the word “green” is re-tweeted from everyone’s lips (and electronic devices), from marketers to start-up entrepreneurs to laid-off corporate job-seekers. It has been identified as the latest buzz-word with which to get a foot in the door for an interview, or as the new competency that will give one candidate the edge over another for employment. There are certification programs in “green” technology, marketing, manufacture. Obama pledged, during his candidacy, to promote “green jobs” as a vehicle for getting the economy back on its feet.

(Copyright Jim Henson, Sesame Street. With deep gratitude to Kermit the Frog)

But what does “green” really mean? Close your eyes for a minute and really think about what comes to your mind when you hear the word “green.” Key into the emotional context. Try to visualize how green living and green technology manifest themselves in your mind’s eye. I would venture to say that for most of us, “green” is a feel-good concept that hangs vaguely on the horizon of our daily consciousness; a nice-to-have, but not a mandate, especially since most green things are more expensive than non-green things (and economy is foremost on our minds these days). Hybrid cars, for example, cost significantly more than non-hybrid cars, and are harder to get. Solar energy is great for the environment, and eventually saves money over conventional electricity, but the installation costs seem insurmountable for most homeowners, so most people stick with coal- or nuclear-generated electricity and natural gas. Recycled paper products often cost more than virgin wood products.

“Green” means different things to different people. But lest the term should pass, unexamined, into our everyday parlance, let’s take a moment to reflect on what the word “green” means.

When I hear the word “green,” it conjures up in my mind a utopian globe, where clean streams empty into blue oceans teeming with millions of species of happy fish, beautiful whales and dolphins, while contented flocks of birds, butterflies and dragonflies flutter overhead, protected from ultraviolet solar rays by a healed ozone layer. Factories are all compliant with stringent regulations that prohibit air, water, and soil pollution. CEOs of multinational corporations are happy to be responsible, and have a great sense of personal satisfaction in keeping water, air, and food safe for everyone across the globe, because they feel invested in being part of one big global family, knowing that we need to look out for one another. The thirst for profit does not a motivate deforestation, strip-mining, sweat-shop labor, prostitution, child slavery, nuclear pollution, war, or any other form of large-scale wrongdoing, because everyone knows that if we all work intelligently together, there are plenty of resources for everyone, and if we all show love and consideration for one another, we will all get it back a thousand-fold. All food is organically grown with no pesticides or genetic engineering, and everyone in the world has access to clean water, nutritious food, and a nice, comfortable place to live. We are all vegetarians, because we all deeply believe in the rights of animals, as well as humans, to live with dignity. No one works for less than minimum wage anywhere in the world, and workers are treated with respect and fairness and when they get old, they and their families are taken care of. Everyone has high quality healthcare and access to sustainable wellness programs. Education of everyone, everywhere, is a priority, at every level of society, from the local community to the international community. Conflict resolution is a basic premise of human interaction and as such, it is taught and reinforced throughout a person’s life. Greed, jealousy, and violence are universally recognized as social illnesses for which humane convalescent centers and effective retraining programs are in place. There are no prisons and no death penalty, because we deeply understand that everyone, with proper care, treatment, and integration into society, can be a loving, productive, and fulfilled human being. Huge employment opportunities exist in the social services sector, because we have learned, as a global society, that humans are our most valuable resource, and the cultivation of the human mind as our richest, most renewable resource, is the universally accepted priority.

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