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The Stuff White People Like klaxons are sounding over news that some couples are having to seek marital counseling because they can’t agree on how green to be. This is wild. Excerpt:
As awareness of environmental concerns has grown, therapists say they are seeing a rise in bickering between couples and family members over the extent to which they should change their lives to save the planet.In households across the country, green lines are being drawn between those who insist on wild salmon and those who buy farmed, those who calculate their carbon footprint and those who remain indifferent to greenhouse gases.
“As the focus on climate increases in the public’s mind, it can’t help but be a part of people’s planning about the future,” said Thomas Joseph Doherty, a clinical psychologist in Portland, Ore., who has a practice that focuses on environmental issues. “It touches every part of how they live: what they eat, whether they want to fly, what kind of vacation they want.”
While no study has documented how frequent these clashes have become, therapists agree that the green issue can quickly become poisonous because it is so morally charged. Friends or family members who are not devoted to the environmental cause can become irritated by life choices they view as ostentatiously self-denying or politically correct.
OK, this makes me laugh … but there’s something to it. As the article points out, the way one relates to “green issues” says a lot about one’s moral orientation. I have myself noticed that when I go visit my folks, it makes me flinch not to compost and recycle. Mind you, they don’t have a compost pile (or a need for one, really) and there’s no local recycling program, so it would be unfair to impute moral failure to anybody who lives there and doesn’t compost and/or recycle. Still, I have been surprised by how getting into the habit of doing those things comes to feel like a moral choice — for me, the composting more than the recycling. It feels wasteful not to do those things. I couldn’t imagine arguing so much with my spouse or any other family member over these issues that we had to seek counseling, but then again, perhaps how a family handles the green issue reveals deeper moral conflicts. The times Julie and I have argued over this sort of thing have not really been about the environment; they’ve been about thrift (hers) and laziness (mine).
It’s also probably the case that environmental arguments are in some ways substituting for religious arguments in a secular age — a variation on Mary Eberstadt’s thesis about the inversion of sex and food as areas of cultural conflict and social censure.
UPDATE: Reader Doug sends in this hilarious horror.