Mary Katharine Ham

The following article is from the January issue for Townhall Magazine.  To subscribe to twelve issues of Townhall Magazine and receive a free copy of Andrew McCarthy’s Willful Blindness:  A Memoir of a Jihad, click here

“The highest high would be growing our food that I then make, and then composting and growing more—that kind of circle,” Julia Roberts told Vanity Fair last month.

So, it turns out opossums aren’t the only pointy-nosed mammals with prominent chompers who find fulfillment in backyard refuse.

This is conspicuous environmentalism. Like conspicuous consumption—a term coined by economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen in the 19th century to describe the buying behaviors of the nouveau riche—conspicuous environmentalism is rooted in the need to establish social status for the nouveau vert.

Instead of being sociologically buoyed by a new Caddy, however, conspicuous environmentalists prefer the moral superiority offered by anything considered “green,” and the ostentatious flaunting thereof.

As “greenness” becomes evermore trendy and people seek to bask in the white, fluorescent light of its ecosainthood, the definition of “green” inevitably broadens.

Though environmentalists are often known for their more wacky exploits, like aborting babies because kids aren’t eco-friendly or blowing up perfectly good SUVs in the name of conservation, the mainstreaming of “greenness” means they’re also appropriating normal behaviors, elevating them to sacred “greenness,” and then loudly congratulating themselves for things most would consider unremarkable. Thus, compost becomes spiritual for Julia Roberts.

A recent conversation between Rosie O’Donnell and Martha Stewart on Stewart’s show found them attempting to “green” themselves into our good graces by defining “greenness” down considerably.

After Martha declared herself a “maniacal electricity saver,” Rosie asked her how she saves electricity in her many homes:

Rosie: “If you stay in three of them, the rest of them…are dark?’

Martha: “They’re dark.”

Rosie: “You’re green! Martha’s gone green!”

So, for your personal “green” scorecard, turning off the lights in a house you’re not even living in is now considered “green,” which means the fact that most of you likely turn off the lights when you leave a room makes you veritable Nobel Peace Prize winners. Congrats!

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This article is from the January issue for Townhall Magazine.  To subscribe to twelve issues of Townhall Magazine and receive a free copy of Andrew McCarthy’s Willful Blindness:  A Memoir of a Jihad, click here.

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A recent World Wildlife Fund press release set the bar very low indeed by entreating families gathering for holidays to indulge in the newly “green” practice of…eating leftovers. If you’ve ever had to loosen your top button in your valiant attempts not to waste that pound of leftover stuffing, I salute you, eco-warrior.

NBC’s “green” website offers such helpful tips as “fix a leaky toilet” instead of letting the water supply spirit away indefinitely. If you’re a normal, responsible person, you may recognize these “green” practices as things you’ve done your entire life because you’re a normal, responsible person.

Many Americans have been saving electricity, eating leftovers and promptly fixing plumbing problems for years because that’s what worked for their families and budgets. Some of them have even drunk tap water and started their own gardens—even composted!—simply because they enjoy saving money and eating well.

In recent droughts, the Southeast conserved water like never before, not because it was green, but because it made sense. When the price of oil goes up, sales of efficient economy and hybrid cars go up.

People act on incentives. It is not conspicuous environmentalism and its endorsement of intentions over results that will save the earth from whatever may face it. It is not “raising awareness” that will ultimately improve living standards. It is not that super-keen feeling you get when you buy organic lipstick that will change the world.

Liberals have learned from their past crusades. Climate change, as they present it, is a problem so big that it lends itself to the biggest-government solutions yet. Because it is an incremental science, environmentalists won’t have to be accountable for results during any of their lifetimes. And, because going “green” now only requires eating leftover turkey and buying carbon offsets, there’s very little personal sacrifice involved in claiming measurable moral superiority.

It’s the War on Poverty on steroids. Or, organic supplements. Whichever you prefer. Meanwhile, as it always has been, it’s up to free markets and free people to solve the world’s problems.

It is developed countries with booming industries that create the technologies to sprinkle lawns with reclaimed water and run cars on electricity. It is development in underdeveloped nations that eventually creates the per capita income necessary to sustain basic sanitation and environmental standards.

Economic prosperity and environmental standards are as inseparable as environmentalists and their smugness, but activists insist on badmouthing the very thing they need to sustain their lifestyles and their purported goals. Because being a capitalist just doesn’t feel as good as being “green.”

Luckily, as long as the nouveau vert are too preoccupied with their compost and hemp shower curtains to impede development, we can work so that the rest of the world will someday have the luxury of being conspicuous environmentalists too.

This article is from the January issue for Townhall Magazine.  To subscribe to twelve issues of Townhall Magazine and receive a free copy of Andrew McCarthy’s Willful Blindness:  A Memoir of a Jihad, click here.


Mary Katharine Ham

Mary Katharine Ham is editor-at-large of HotAir.com, a contributor to Townhall Magazine.

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