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Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Shades of green

Lifestyle/Technology | Today's environmentalists range from good stewards to "carboexics"

Issue: "Obama," Nov. 15, 2008

Older folks who lived through the Great Depression often live environmentally friendly lives as a side effect of their thrifty habits. They reuse plastic bags, hang onto rubber bands and twisties, and keep their functioning appliances well after they've lost their fashionable luster. They probably didn't consider themselves environmentalists. They were just frugal.

Now that people define themselves by their environmental sensibilities, marketers are dividing them into two types: bright green and dark green. A New York Times blog stated that dark greens "value environmental aspects of products more than any other attribute, express a high willingness to pay a premium, are inclined to attach high importance to energy independence for their homes, and stress the importance of generating supplies locally." Wikipedia describes dark greens as those who believe that "dominant political ideologies (sometimes referred to as industrialism) are corrupt and inevitably lead to consumerism, alienation from nature and resource depletion."

Light greens, according to the Times, "perceive a trade-off between environmental aspects and other product attributes-notably price. They express a more limited willingness to pay for environmental features, and they often underline the importance of convenience, comfort and low maintenance." That's why the drop in oil prices is causing consternation among some dark greens. They fear that the austere environmental measures they are pushing will be less palatable given the worldwide economic slowdown.

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The Times has identified some greens who are so dark green that they merit a new term: energy anorexic, or carborexic. Who are they? Meet "Ms. Astyk, 36, a writer and a farmer who is trying, with the aid of a specially designed calculator, to whittle her family's energy use to 10 percent of the national average. She and her husband, Eric Woods, a college professor, grow virtually all their own produce, raise chickens and turkeys, and spend only $1,000 a year in consumer goods, most of which they buy used. They air-dry their clothes, and their four sons often sleep huddled together to pool body heat."

Then there is "Jay Matsueda . . . [who] has neither heat nor air-conditioning in his condominium in Culver City, Calif. He runs his car, a 1983 Mercedes SD Turbo, on waste oil from a Los Angeles restaurant."

And Anita Lavine and Joe Turcotte. "When their two toddlers come home from preschool, Ms. Lavine scrubs the Ziploc bags that hold their soiled clothes and biodegradable diapers, and uses them the next day. She does the same with the plastic bags that hold her children's apples "and random lunch stuff."

The Times suggested that some carborexics could be taking things too far. The article quoted a psychiatrist who said, "The critical factor in determining whether something has reached the level of a disorder is if dysfunction is involved. . . . Is it getting in the way of your ability to do a good job at work? Is it taking precedence over everything else in your relationships?"

Green diapers

According to The Times of London, Britain's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) spent £50,000 to research whether disposable or cloth diapers left a smaller carbon footprint. When the researchers concluded that disposable diapers-long the bugaboo of environmentalists-had a smaller impact than cloth "nappies," the bureaucrats at Defra decided to smother the findings.

The researchers concluded that cloth diapers could compete environmentally, but only if their users kept them for years, air dried them, and washed them at temperatures below 60º C (140º F). These findings echo the results from another study completed two years ago.

Tip Top

Levi Stubbs, lead singer of Motown's Four Tops, died last month at the age of 72. He was a classy man from another era: married to Cliniece for 48 years, loyal to Detroit where he was born and lived throughout his life, and partnered with the same three singers he met in high school. For 44 years they cranked out hits until the first of them died in 1997. Altogether they placed 45 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 from 1964 to 1988.

Motown founder Barry Gordy praised Stubbs as "the greatest interpreter of songs I've ever heard." Otis Williams of the Temptations called him "our black Frank Sinatra" and said, "We have lost one of the great voices of the 20th century." YouTube has clips of Levi Stubbs and the Four Tops in action: Particularly fun is a "Battle of the Groups" segment during Motown's 25th anniversary celebration at the Apollo Theater, hosted by Bill Cosby.

Stubbs in 2000 suffered several strokes, but later he appeared and sang with Aretha Franklin from his wheelchair.

Backward deployment

Japanese company Prop is marketing a wearable airbag that resembles a zip-up vest and weighs slightly more than two pounds. It is intended to help elderly people avoid serious injury when they fall backwards. The contraption senses a fall and less than a tenth of a second later releases two airbags-one protecting the back of the head and the other protecting the hips. If you've seen an elderly person decline rapidly after a fall, you might think the price-148,000 yen or $1,400-worth it.

Personality test

Can you really tell people's political leanings by looking at their personal spaces? Yes, according to the work of two professors. Scientific American reported that liberals are inclined toward ambiguity and intellectualism and thus their personal spaces "tend to be colorful and awash in books about travel, ethnicity, feminism and music, along with music CDs covering folk, classic and modern rock, as well as art supplies, movie tickets and travel memorabilia."

Not so conservatives: They "tend to surround themselves with calendars, postage stamps, laundry baskets, irons and sewing materials in their personal spaces. . . . Their bedrooms and offices are well-lighted and decorated with sports paraphernalia and flags-especially American ones."

This kind of research garners headlines, but political scientist Evan Charney told Scientific American, "'There's a lot of bad science here." He challenged the "correlation between personality and political ideology. . . . [Studies] are invariably going to reflect the value assumptions of a society-in this case, academic liberals.'"

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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