Wipe That Green Grin Off Your Face

I once worked with an art director who had a unique approach to dealing with the tricky conflicts and bitter power struggles that festered away in his department. When I asked him how things were going, he'd flash me a thumbs-up, paste on a grin, and say, "Hey, it's all good!"

I think about that guy every time I browse the current surfeit of magazines, TV shows, Web sites, and organizations devoted to "green." Each outfit has its own particular angle on healthy, sustainable living, but the chorus is the same: This stuff is easy, breezy, affordable, and damn sexy. Get onboard! It's all good!

You can't blame them. Most of these productions are out to move product, and the best way to do that is to make the target market feel awesome.

But there's something else going on here. There's an unspoken consensus in the nouveau-green movement that, if we even so much as hint that the changes we need to make are, in fact , not always easy and breezy and affordable (but instead often complicated and expensive) then nobody will pursue them.

That's why you won't catch so much of a whiff of eco-strife across the newsstands and cable channels. All you'll get is recycled-plastic smiles, Daryl Hannah giggles, and high-five success stories.

For someone like me who has attempted to move past the baby steps and embrace deep-green transformational change in his own life and family--with frankly mixed results--this suffocating optimism is not only irritating, but irresponsible. Why? Because it sets people up for disillusionment, or worse.

I'm sorry to say it out loud, but for the vast majority of working Americans here in the fourth quarter of 2008, the greener life entails significant premiums of cost and life force. Doing the right thing is way harder than simply shopping more carefully, and sorting the glass from the tins; it means swimming upstream against a system still engineered to preserve an overwhelmingly brown status quo.

Transformational change isn't about bamboo towels and hemp Ts. It's about revamping our relationships--with the stuff we buy and consume, and with each other. It takes dedication and resilience from millions of people across the land. It takes work. And that's exactly why it feels so sweet when you do, eventually, start to make some headway.

It's time the green leaders find another way to get the point across other than cheerleading and baby steps. It's time to fess up that the road to post-carbon nirvana is twisted, bumpy, and littered with potholes, and that, in spite of this, we need to follow it anyway. Americans aren't dupes. Give 'em the straight goods and watch them respect you all the more, before stepping up to the plate.

James Glave is the author of Almost Green: How I Saved 1/6th of a Billionth of the Planet (Skyhorse Publishing, $25). He blogs at glave.com.