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June 27-July 3, 2007

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Grue-Bleen Planet

Why I'm sick of being green

By Brett Ascarelli

GREEN was my favorite color until I was 11. I liked what it stood for—mainly, the Emerald City. Since the dimming of my tweens, however, the whole spectrum of greens may as well have been smushed into just one dismal value: the dull fluorescence of an energy-saving light bulb.

Throughout my formative years, pundits droned on about doom by global warming, and now I am convinced that there's nothing I can do to stop it. Not only that, but the green frenzy has become totally annoying in a Paris Hilton kind of way.

I think it was in 1990, fourth or fifth grade, when my greening started. A group of local college kids came to my school auditorium and put on a performance about saving energy. That's where I learned the classic tooth-brushing lesson: Shut the faucet off when you brush your teeth, otherwise you'll waste 5 gallons of water. Taking the lesson to heart, I often turned off the spigot when my mom, doing the dishes, left it running too long.

Later that year, my teacher posted a flier on the classroom wall. Its list of earth-friendly tips suggested, among other things, "Wear a sweater at home." At the time, this was confusing. What if it was hot?

Now I think back. Over a decade since Jimmy Carter snuggled up in his cardigan and exhorted America to turn the heat down, this is how far we'd come.

Shouldering the entire burden of the "save our planet" mantra, the color green has meanwhile traded its Oz-like magic for survivalist morality.

I once met an astronaut who told me that, while peering at our planet from the space shuttle window, she realized that the earth wasn't going anywhere. It was a hunk of rock.

It's not the earth we want to save, but the idea that we Homo sapiens will continue to survive at least a couple generations from now. But what about saving the people who are already here? I considered listing some of the awful things we go through, but, being human, you might already have some idea of what they are. Is our species really worth saving if we can't get it together enough to take care of each other?

Well, sure.

Maintaining the earth's climate and resources are worthy activities. But they should be our modus operandi by now. Instead of spending so much time praising green efforts, we should penalize polluting perpetrators. Being green shouldn't be an exception anymore. It should be as normal as breathing. What's taking so long?

The first bottle-recycling bill was introduced in 1969. Now, almost 40 years later, we still go through bottled water like Skittles. According to a recent New York Times article, Americans drink 30 billion bottles of single-serving water per year. But these bottles not only take energy and fossil fuel to make and ship, they take energy to recycle, too.

Don't pollute. OK. Don't litter. Duh. Don't use toxic chemicals in your business. Check. Don't buy bottled water. You bet. It's just common sense, if you've been spoon-fed this stuff since elementary school. For me, trying to be green in this junk-filled environment is depressing. It's like a new Catholicism, full of guilt and threats of Armageddon.

In many languages, there is no distinction between the colors green and blue. English translators often use the made-up word "grue" to convey this color. In this way, the blue-green earth, as viewed from above, is grue.

But grue has another meaning, too. The late Harvard-educated philosopher Nelson Goodman introduced the term to illustrate a shortcoming of inductive reasoning. As a former philosophy student who hasn't thumbed through those textbooks in years, I understand grue to mean the following: just because we see an object that's blue now, doesn't necessarily mean that we can assume it was blue before we saw it. For all we know, it may have been green. Grue, then, is any object that was observed to be blue after some point in time, or any object that was observed to be green before that point in time. Goodman also coined its opposite: "bleen."

Like Schrödinger's cat, another philosophical thought experiment, grue is something you've seen before and could characterize then, but now it's hidden and maybe it's changed. It's the unsettling feeling of sticking your hand into a paper bag during Halloween and not being quite sure whether you're touching eyeballs or just grapes. (Incidentally, grue is also what author Jack Vance calls his monsters in his 1950 Dying Earth series, "the classic science fantasy of the world on the eve of destruction.")

As global warming continues and the ice caps melt, the earth from above will probably look more and more blue. We're turning ever grue-er, if you will, and that's a weird feeling. So far, even if some of our efforts are working, they haven't been effective enough to turn the process around (yet?). Stuck in grue-ish limbo, the earth is neither here nor there, and somehow the color green is supposed to save us.

As for me, trying to be green hasn't gotten us anywhere. I'm giving myself up to grue.

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