Here’s an interesting side effect of being a professional environmentalist: people immediately feel the need to confess their worst environmental sins to you.

When I tell people what I do for a living, they avert their eyes. Then they grasp me by the elbow, their voice drops, and in a whisper they apologetically, shamefacedly tell me about their SUV, how they just can’t find the time to figure out how recycling works in their neighborhood, or about their six-bottle a week imported water habit. At one party, I spent a good part of the evening talking a mother of three off of an existential cliff over the horrible gas mileage from her minivan.

I’m ambivalent about this role. Should I be issuing penance? The pope did recently declare environmental destruction to be a sin, so there is a precedent. Is there a formula depending on the gravity of the sin? “You still don’t line dry your clothing? Ride twenty miles on your bicycle and start composting.” Is writing a check to the local Sierra Club chapter a legitimate way around this?

So here’s my personal sin: I adore red meat. Since I stopped being a consultant, I don’t fly as much. I ride our company shuttle to work, so eating meat has become hands down the most environmentally damaging thing that I do, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Even years of living in a vegetarian co-op, while drastically reducing my meat consumption, didn’t cure me of the habit. A year in Kenya, where the best way to show hospitality is to roast a goat for one’s guest, didn’t help matters much.

I know it’s bad. While I proudly walk the halls at work with my lime-colored Green Team coffee mug and will walk across campus to retrieve it instead of getting coffee in a paper cup, I just can’t seem to resist the pot roast at our cafeteria – and often glance around furtively to see who’s watching.

Instead of a confessional, maybe what we need is a support group.


3 Responses to “Envirosins?”

  1. 1 E April 1, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    Maybe you could sell Green Indulgences? Sort of an accessible form of carbon offsets.

  2. 2 Samsdeal April 11, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    My worst environmental sin is regularly driving a ’99 Nissan Maximia on a 104-mile round trip commute. I rationalize is it as still more green than buying a new car. Is it?

    • 3 Chris Page April 22, 2010 at 8:47 am

      Depends, Sam. are you a hypermiler? Word has it some guy was able to get 50+ MPG from an early ’80s compact model by just changing his habits.

      A rule of thumb is, roughly 25% of the impact of a car is from manufacturing if you drive it the average US 12,000-15,000 per year. That number’s probably a smaller percentage for you given the amount of driving.

      Where it gets interesting is if you were to buy a USED hybrid…..

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