The XX Factor

Green Fighting

Those of us on the left more inclined to see the value in old school tactics like collective action mainly like to cite effectiveness as the reason, with a side dish of increased opportunties to create alliances and friendships while breaking down arbitrary boundaries. But add one more reason to the pile: It could save your marriage. As someone who has more than a little bit of angst about personal responsibilities to be green, even I could not refrain from rolling my eyes at couples who are torn up fighting each other over moral purity rituals in the name of environmentalism .

Clearly, the government doesn’t need to create such strict mileage laws as to ban SUVs strictly to save the planet; they need to do it to keep the peace in families, if holidays are being ruined over fights about whether or not someone is a goody-two-shoes-know-it-all because they get mad at the phallic-issues cases in their families who drive SUVs. That, or your family needs a few unrepentant racists and men who crack jokes about women drivers so you have something more pressing to fight about.

As long as environmentalism dwells in the no-man’s land of consumer choice, I fail to see much value in bugging your significant other because the clash betweeen their commitment to the planet and commitment to personal comfort shakes out differently than yours. I’ve been a vegetarian for seven years and managed to get my driving down to nearly nothing even when living in Texas and dating someone less committed to the bicycle and more committed to the BBQ plate. Instead of this causing fights, though, I left him alone and he praised me for at least moving him more in the right direction. And I borrowed his car when I had a big grocery run. When you see yourself as less than perfect, it’s easy enough to avoid riding someone else’s ass for environmental imperfections. Especially since few of us are reducing our carbon footprint to zero by living off the land in mud huts. Plus, our choice to avoid having kids probably does more for our carbon footprint bona fides than all the cold showers and long bicycle rides you can imagine put together.

Then again, that’s within the good ol’ conjugal home. No matter how conflict-averse you are, if you’re visibly “green” in any way, that will cause people who feel guilty to decide to jump all over you for being a goody-two-shoes, and this sadly often includes family members. It took years of stubborn refusal to eat meat and protection from my mother before some of my extended family stopped giving me hell over my holiday plates laden down with side dishes, even though I’m the queen of skipping the meat without saying a word. Even in my former hometown of Austin, which is generally a liberal place, bicyclists will occasionally get aggressive treatment from drivers who perceive a smugness in your cheery, exercise-receiving bicyclist demeanor.

If being green means anything to you, you have to learn to live with this. It helps to remember that they’re likely acting out because they feel guilty. The mother in this story who claims that food tastes better off Styrofoam sounds infuriating because she’s obviously in deep denial, but on the flip side, you have to laugh at the idea. It’s almost as preposterous as saying that you prefer the smell of exhaust fumes to the clean air of the untouched wilderness.

Photograph of couple by Digital Vision/Getty Images.