My wife's parents are hippies. In general, this has made my life a lot easier. Instead of questioning their daughter's future with a journalist, they were awed that I was able to pay for the 475-sq.-ft. (45 sq m) apartment we lived in for six years. And that I was all sophisticated with my use of deodorant.
But it does mean that my lovely wife Cassandra grew up with different habits--habits that are now my habits. I'm a hippie by marriage.
I care about the environment as much as anyone else. If the environment wasn't looking where it was going and was about to get hit by a car, I'd yell, "Hey, environment, watch out!" I get weepy when I see a poorly rendered CGI polar bear drown. But unlike me, Cassandra was taught to spend more time actually caring than remembering that she is supposed to. We flush the toilet only when absolutely necessary, for instance. Which, in my unenlightened opinion, would mean every time we use it, especially since her being a child of hippies means we have to take a lot of vitamins and eat asparagus.
Now that we have a house with a backyard, Cassandra has decided we need a compost heap. Apparently she has very warm memories of her childhood compost. What these are I find hard to imagine. Sledding down the compost pile? Building compost castles? Making compost angels? Playing Batman, Robin and the Case of the Maggot-Ridden Tofu Pup?
At first our compost system consisted of a Tupperware container that I put eggshells and banana peels in. I was supposed to put a lot of other stuff in there too, but there was also stuff I was absolutely not supposed to put in, so I simplified it down to the things she would notice if I threw them away in the regular garbage.
When the Tupperware container disappeared, I was greatly relieved. This was foolish. A week later, Cassandra decorated our kitchen with a large green compost bin--which, I may point out, is clearly made of plastic--and told me to throw all kinds of stuff in there. This stuff would then sit in our kitchen. Rotting. I was starting to understand that there are reasons besides shunning deodorant that hippies smell bad.
Then the UPS guy delivered a coil of bamboo fencing so large I could barely lift it. This would demark the compost area in our yard. That way, we could enjoy rotting things both inside and outside our house. And denude a small part of Vietnamese jungle.
As far as I was concerned, we were replacing an environmentally superior system: I put food in the garbage disposal, it went out to the ocean, fish ate it, and I ate the fish and put the uneaten fish bits right back into the disposal--a perfect, waste-free circle of life. Cassandra didn't see it that way. She wanted the thrill of watching food decompose. I wondered if we could do something else for the planet instead: save trees by ordering fewer fashion magazines, protect cows by massively reducing our purchases of boots and handbags, conserve energy by not watching Gossip Girl. But the compost isn't going anywhere.
I realize our planet has limited resources and Chinese people want cars and all this is making our planet warmer for reasons I'm pretty sure I understood when I left the Al Gore movie and have no idea about now and am not nearly interested in enough to watch that Al Gore movie again. But I'm convinced that the environmental movement is less about making sure we humans can continue to do important things like fly and drive and spritz ourselves with cans of Evian and more of an excuse to advocate an anticonsumerist, antiglobalization, anti-good-smelling-kitchen agenda. People were living in communes, crocheting their own Rasta hats and conserving office electricity by not getting a job long before they knew it was preventing global warming. So don't pretend that some of this environmentalism isn't about pushing a lifestyle. Somewhere someone is arguing that carbon emissions are somehow reduced by jam bands.
I'm fine with Cassandra's new, cool Prius. Those curly fluorescent bulbs we have are great. And I do think we should replace our plants with cacti, only partly because they seem so much more badass than rosebushes. But I believe our messy oil age will be replaced by better technology, not by a planetary embrace of Luddism. Because really, what's easier--one smart dude figuring out how to run cars on sea monkeys, or convincing all of Asia to never try air-conditioning? Those people eat spicy food.
This article was reprinted without any permission whatsoever, but was originally published in Time Vol. 171 No. 13, for the week of March 31, 2008