Yasmin Nair

Singles Cause Global Warming: Where’s the Revolution?

Filed By Yasmin Nair | December 11, 2007 6:34 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Al Gore, Alexander Cockburn, Global Warming, Nobel Prize, Recycling, Revolution

So Al Gore picked up his Nobel Peace Prize. He insisted on taking public transportation from the airport, instead of the traditional motorcade. Hmmm. It’s not every day that the words “public transportation” appear alongside “motorcade.” And it’s not every day that someone who lives in a mansion with an attached guest house is lauded for his work on global warming. What, I ask, is the man doing with a mansion and a guest house? How about a guest room? Or pull-out beds? Assuming that his kids are all grown and gone, what’re he and Tipper doing in a mansion, anyway?

Why, you might ask, am I so irritated with Gore? I usually ignore the debates on global warming because, frankly, there are other issues that I’m really depressed about: war, famine, AIDS, homelessness, corruption, and the idiotic belief that charity and wearing t-shirts with the word “Red” on them can make a difference to all of that. The self-satisfied smugness of the mainstream recycling crowd makes me want to run screaming down the street, throwing caution and plastic bags to the wind: “ShutupshutupshutupshutUP!”

I’m prompted to write on this because of a recent “study” claiming that divorced people (read: singles) contribute to global warming. But more on that later. I’m also prompted to write because Al Gore’s silly little publicity stunt makes me realise how sick I am of the topics of global warming and recycling, topics that have combined into a new religion for that part of the populace that coyly refers to itself as liberal/progressive. What, precisely, is this new “green revolution” about, besides generating massive profits for brands like Gap? And prompting wealthy people – or people who’d like to be seen as wealthy – to buy expensive tokens of a “sustainable” lifestyle? (And what's a "progressive" anyway? Someone who might eventually progress towards the left?)

It seems to me that there are two types of recyclers/greens. There’s the insufferable type, best represented by the hordes of women in nearby Andersonville (on the north side of Chicago) who seem to have been cloned by Real Simple magazine: mildly attractive but inevitably boring – and bored-looking –yuppie women, young mothers all, with identical ponytails and children, getting out of their SUVs and walking into their yoga classes with their bamboo mats tucked under their arms. If you believe the recent blather, these are the people who invented the entire discourse around sustainable practices, the only ones who care enough about the earth to go out and buy stuff for it. Or, as in the case of people like Barbara Kingsolver (see my review of her book here) and others, who can afford to move away from their homes and resurrect ancient ways of farming and harvesting to show the rest of us a thing or two.

The other type is best represented by most of my friends, who put up with my wayward ways. I don’t recycle and don’t care where my meat comes from; I can’t pay $21.99 a pound for dead but once-happy lambs. The most I do is reuse my plastic bags as trash bags, and I hang them for that purpose on the kitchen door handle. I’m told that’s what immature frat boys do until they marry and their wives make them buy real trash cans. Whatever. A trash can takes up too much space and is one more household item that requires cleaning.

But to return to my friends: Vegetarian/Vegan or not, they’ve been following their own brand of green politics, from the days when that meant Ralph Nader – and earlier. Their politics around conservation and recycling have always been part of a general radical politics. They organise, in one way or another, around labour; the war; public transportation; keeping the military out of urban public schools; funding public schools; or some combination thereof. None of them would claim to be pure. Some even, gasp, drive cars, and yes, practise yoga (I don’t do that either: I get bored easily from all that sitting around). They protest liberal politicians who waffle on war and/or the living wage; they understand that the two are connected; and some of them get arrested, with alarming regularity, for various acts of civil disobedience. Their earth politics have never been dissociated from politics, period. Not all of them are hard-core recyclers, and their concern is less with buying the emblems of “sustainability” and more about fighting for a radical politics that actually considers the connections between the issues we face collectively. In contrast to, for instance, the Ponytails, who agitate for zoned parking so that they don’t have to circle for spaces when they go to the gym, four whole blocks away.

Recycling in the US is fast becoming an obsessive culture, and the main point seems to be to cart your stuff to a plant that magically makes your stuff go away and return as something else entirely. Which, in many cases, might not be a bad thing, but there’s a fanaticism about removing any evidence that we actually generate trash in the first place. We get to call it something else if we actually have to sort it. I spent an earlier part of my life passing through India, where it was not uncommon to buy hot, fried chick peas in a paper bag made out of someone’s chemistry exam answers. Okay, there are problems with that. There were the occasional news reports about entire sets of exam answers that went missing from a local university. In one case, it turned out that marks (grades) had been handed out but no one had actually read the papers handed in and then, ooops, they were sold to the local rag-and-paper man. A friend swore he found a page from his history exam at a grocery store. And there’s that thorny issue of child labour to consider. And that whole grinding poverty thing. But the point is that no one thought it out of the ordinary that your afternoon snack could also give you some reading material.

That’s unthinkable here in the current climate, no pun intended, about recycling, where mysterious processes erase any signs that your recycled paper was actually recycled from, ugh, old paper (and one has to wonder at the expense of the processes involved in that kind of literal and metaphorical erasure). But more importantly, we’ve revised the history of green politics so that it’s now longer about politics, and we now credit city-suburbanites (people who want the city to operate like the burbs they grew up in) who have lousy politics and ex-VPs who live in mansions with saving the earth.

This new green “revolution,” at least the mainstream version, seems so much easier than a real one. The tougher battles – over inequality and the systems that keep it going – are rarely heard of. Forget green cities – how about funding public transportation so that the average American city isn’t designed exclusively for cars? So that people can actually get to work on time? In Chicago, we’re repeatedly threatened with doomsday scenarios where we lose more bus routes and gain increased fares. The morning weather news is filled with details about how long it takes to drive from the suburbs into the city for work, but we hear nothing about whether or not the #22 Clark bus, for instance, is running on time or not.

In his recent column for the Nation (Dec. 17), Alexander Cockburn (famously cynical about global warming and Al Gore) writes about “what one may term rhetorical, politically correct “mini-progressivism.”” In a far less elegant fashion, I find myself asking: Where’s the Revolution?

And, oh yeah, that bit about single people causing global warming. That’s tomorrow. I'm exhausted and depressed from thinking about the sad state of politics today, and need to go to my local diner for some coffee. The kind that tastes best in a Styrofoam cup.

(This post is part one of a two part series. The second post is "Singles cause global warming: a bad marriage is good for the environment.")

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Yasmin this was great!

Al Gore thinks we peons are dumb as sheep and can be lead abound the nose by such superficial
Tactics as taking public transportation
after getting off someone's private jet that
leaves a carbon footprint the size of the Grand canyon. Al Gore should be shunned his movie is a farce and has been soundly debunked by real scientists. Not that global warming doesn't exist, it does. Man's part in it is overrated.

My roommate spent a month in India back in the early 70's. She wasn't completely prepared for that experience however it was overall a learning experience. She took a bus trip through Northern India and saw how the other 89% lives.

Recycling is for some reason not completely politically correct I don't quite get this myself.. I have noticed the recycled paper costs more then the virgin stuff, unlike aluminum which really is cheaper to remake into usable products, in spite of it being toxic to humans.
(that is another story)

Maybe there isn't a revolution because more people then you or i realize see the Hypocrisy of AL Gore and company. The same upper class who won't eat the same GMO food we are stuck with eating.

as with everything else when economics dictate we will all become a deeper shade of green.

Good Post
Take care
Susan Robins

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The ones that kill me are the idiots that have all the yellow ribbons and "Support the Troops" stickers on the back of their SUVs as if we're not in Iraq because of oil. And how much gas does an SUV suck down?

Very Sharp point Bil.
Funny thing is we are sitting on a lot of oil we are not using in a new discovery in Alaska and Utah.

There are a lot of disturbing things that keep popping up in regards to Iraq, too many to cover in this thread...

You have a good day sir.
Susan Robins

Just some notes about Al Gore.

The "guest house" is suspected to be the secret service's spook house. The main house, while being large, houses offices for two distinct business and office space for both Gores.

The private jet thing is largely a myth. Probably 99% of the time he uses airlines for travel. There are plenty enough cell phone pics of Gore lugging his suitcases through an airport. Trust me, those that use private jets NEVER see the inside of an airline terminal.

Also, the bunker underneath Gore's home is where they make yellow "Support the troops" magnets.


Also, the bunker underneath Gore's home is where they make yellow "Support the troops" magnets.

Good to know!

I was worried that it was someone working in a sweatshop half a world a way and the irony of it all would have made my head explode. Of course, if it did, I'd have the French national health care system to put it back together.

No more irony for you, jeun homme!

But about Al Gore.... I don't know if he's the best target in this case. I mean, sure, I doubt he's living a perfect life, but there are lots of people who are doing lots worse without caring that it doesn't make much sense to go after Gore.

Oprah, definitely, especially after I found out that she doesn't hire any union workers in her studios. She hands out a few cloth shopping bags and thinks it makes up for all those cars she's given away.... mm-hmm.

I did spend a substantial amount of time in exurbia last year, and I do have to say that I didn't see much "green" anyway. But I can see the point you're making with that distinction, Yasmin, and I do wonder then what the possibilities for transformation are. Making green or (red) fashionable doesn't seem to be an answer especially if they use consumerism to sell them.

I'm looking for something more transcendent (that'll work), and it just seems like it's not out there.

*sigh* now I'm the depressed one.

you know Alex...
Life will go on the world will go on and in the end the best thing that can happen is for there to be a middle class of roughly 66% of the world's population.

The green will come because China and India are have emerging middle class that will make up about 2 billion people.

If the American Space Program had not died in favor of the Viet Nam war we would be most of the way there by now and the world population would be somewhere around 4 billion or maybe even less...

Birth rates drop with affluence.
One of the dreams many of us had back then was we could lift the rest of the world out of living in the dirt with technology...

We will never know though...
An angry man with a Texas accent made a decision based on his greed back in the early 70's and kept on killing in southeast Asia.

Take care
Susan Robins

Hi everyone,

Thanks for the comments. As for Al Gore: he came to mind for a number of reasons, the recent Peace Prize being only one of them. I chose him because of the topicality of the subject and because he does represent, for me, the kind of politics that pervades this new "movement." It seems that we get stuck on these relatively hollow gestures and are unable to mobilise politically around issues. I agree with you on Oprah, and I'm constantly surprised at how immune her enterpise has become.

Alex, sorry to depress you! And, oh yeah, regarding the suburbanites: I meant to write "city suburbanites" (and will revise the post accordingly) - a newish breed of people who move into the city from the burbs wanting a city experience which resembles the burbs they grew up in. Very peculiar lot, and they've moving here in droves as part of a reverse flight pattern.