terça-feira, 19 de abril de 2011


Being green isn’t right-wing or left-wing. In his latest Going Green column Robert Butler argues it's merely about behaving with courtesy ...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Spring 2011

During the French revolution, Mary Wollstonecraft, author of “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”, was living in Paris with her lover, Gilbert Imlay, and their young child, Fanny. Wollstonecraft recorded the various lessons that she taught her daughter. One day Fanny asked her mother what thinking was. Fanny was concerned that this was a skill she would never acquire. Her mother reassured her that she had already learnt how to think a little and reminded her of the afternoon when her father had been asleep on the sofa. Fanny had needed to cross the room to fetch a ball and had tiptoed past her father so as not to wake him, and then closed the door very quietly behind her. That was thinking.

It’s not the type of thinking that gets you top grades in class, but it may be the most useful kind there is. We need it the whole time. It’s why, when the doors open on the tube or the metro, we let other people get off before we try to get on. It’s why we stand to one side of the escalator, allowing those in a hurry to overtake. It’s why we don’t let the door slam in the face of the person behind us.

This isn’t about manners in terms of etiquette. It’s not about how you hold your knife and fork—ideas about that differ round the world. It’s about behaving with a degree of courtesy, and because we live in a globalised world, that courtesy now extends further than we might imagine. Going green is not about changing lightbulbs, measuring parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, shutting down Kingsnorth Power Station, owning a Toyota Prius or installing a personal energy monitor. All that may come later. First and foremost, it’s about what Mary Wollstonecraft was telling her child—noticing there’s someone else in the room.

For this reason, going green isn’t left-wing or right-wing. It isn’t a threat. It isn’t a conspiracy by scientists or a means of introducing socialism by the back door. It isn’t even anti anything much, except boorishness. (Though boorishness has many manifestations.) Its real enemy is not-thinking. If you poison the well, people can’t drink from it. If you overfish the ocean, you end up with no fish. If you burn coal, you warm the planet.

If you take more than your share and behave as if other people didn’t exist, you piss them off. One day they will strike back, as one or two of the world’s autocrats have discovered this year. There was a picturesque example of this a few years ago at a hotel on the Italian Riviera. A Welsh coach driver was so incensed by German tourists getting up at the crack of dawn and putting their towels on all the sun-loungers that he got up early one morning, gathered up all the towels and set fire to them. The other holidaymakers cheered.

The conservative philosopher Roger Scruton has a new book out, entitled “Green Philosophy”, in which he sees the environmental problem as arising from “the loss of equilibrium that ensues when people cease to understand their surroundings as a home”. One way to think of your surroundings as home is to think of the things you say at home, the things you say to your children or that were said to you as a child. We want our children to be reasonably polite—to say “please” and “thank you” and offer things to other people—because, even if they want something right this minute, we want them to be aware that they aren’t the only people in the universe. Getting what you want, just when you want it, and ignoring everyone else, would be spoilt. No child wants to be called that.

So we encourage them to think beyond the moment, to see that there needs to be enough to go round. These ideas can be boiled down to bumper stickers. If you make a mess, clear it up. If you break something, fix it. If you borrow something, you need to return it. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Leave a place the way you found it. Make sure there’s enough to go round. If you use it all now, there won’t be any for later. Make sure everyone’s had a go.

It’s not very complicated. Of course plenty of people will say this is terribly naive. The real world isn’t like this. They will have precepts of their own that they’ll want to pass on to their children. I want it and I want it now. We are exceptional. Our way of life is not negotiable. Shop till you drop. Drill baby drill. But, as Mary Wollstonecraft would have explained to her daughter, that isn’t really thinking. It’s not-thinking. Going green is about trying to act like a grown-up.

Robert Butler, a former theatre critic, blogs on the arts and the environment at the Ashden Directory, which he edits. His previous article was about the lasting power of "Heart of Darkness". Picture credit: BlueEyedA73 (via Flickr)

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