Senselessly going green

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In New York, confused consumers buy paint brushes with plastic handles because they are forest-friendly. Alternately, they buy wooden-handled paint brushes because they are not made of non-degradable plastic. One can imagine the dilemma of consumers in India
Eco-narcissism is the new name for the game the rich and guilty play in the name of saving the environment. As they sleep in organic payjamas on organic bedsheets, their roof-top generators run half a dozen air-conditioners, to keep the house cold enough to snuggle under blankets through the night.

While the green brigades ban plastic bags, their writ runs no further than the Mother Dairy outlets in Delhi where sporadic attempts fail to change bad habits. In New York, the confused consumer buys paint brushes with plastic handles because they are forest-friendly (not being made of wood) and conversely wooden-handled paint brushes, because they are not made of non-degradable plastic!

Such is the power of massaging, absurd as it is. In the same league we delude ourselves that CFL bulbs are eco-friendly (which no doubt they are), but not if they are accompanied by halogen lamps to give the special glow that the much maligned incandescent bulbs can’t match. This is akin to the hypocrisy of wearing organic cotton shirts while driving a fuel guzzling Merc.

The green movement having reached somewhat ridiculous proportions in rich countries is slowly catching up with us though a few right thinkers have begun exposing how telling half-truths, if not complete lies, is nothing short of “voodoo marketing”.

A columnist in the US has questioned the proliferation of green but environmentally expensive consumer goods in the name of what he calls “eco narcissism”. In psychology and psychiatry excessive narcissism is recognised as a personality dysfunction and is seen as a manifestation of egotism and selfishness. Applied to a social group, it denotes elitism and indifference to the plight of others.

Out-of-season fruit transported thousands of kilometres by fuel-guzzling jet planes from the southern hemisphere is an example of madness, especially when it is devoured in the name of organic cultivation. The delicacy is environmentally damaging if one considers the enormous fossil fuels burnt to bring Chilean summer raspberries to snow-bound American consumers.

Then there is the snobbery about bottled water. Not even a dhaba will today dare offer plain water for fear of putting off the client. Either it will be bottled water with the stamp of known and unknown companies, or it will be dispensed through an expensive reverse osmosis apparatus “so sweetly” promoted by the Hema Malini and daughter duo. That the contraption requires rejection of three litres of water to give one litre to drink hardly bothers the environmentalists.

No conference or board meeting looks complete without the ubiquitous plastic bottles hiding the chairman and others on the dais. In restaurants, snobbish waiters ask from their lofty heights whether you want mineral water or ordinary water. The guest is made to feel that much more important if mineral water is ordered ordinary water being considered too plebian. In the snootiest hotels they produce Perrier from France (unasked for) at Rs 400 a bottle, knowing full well that the person who foots the bill would not dare send it back. In the market a chilled bottle of water costs as much as a soft drink.

We in India might soon have to face what is happening in America where restaurants buy water for a dollar and resell it for as much as eight dollars or more, making it the highest mark up on any item on the menu. No wonder some restaurants in San Francisco’s Bay area have decided not to serve bottled water at all, as a part of an environmentally sustainable campaign.

Meanwhile the present generation of baby boomers has its own take on giving an eco-friendly upbringing. While swearing that they will not put their baba log through the trials and tribulations of competitive schools, they choose schools with air-conditioned buses and classrooms and ensure that their offspring return to the environment of an air-conditioned house, albeit to eat organic atta chappatis and organically fed chicken.

The argument here is not that we should give up environment-friendly measures and efforts to recycle waste. The solution lies not in deluding oneself that the organic label can buy peace with nature, but by changing lifestyles that waste energy. Should people who adopt unsustainable lifestyles and waste electricity, petrol and diesel (directly or indirectly) become trail-blazers just because they profess green tokenism?

What we need are awareness campaigns that tot up how much we ruin the environment, while deluding ourselves that we are saving the planet. We also need to set our own Indian standards for what is considered environmentally-friendly, safe and sustainable instead of blindly aping Western ideas and practices that have created the impending eco-catastrophe for life on earth.

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