I sort of recognized myself in Emily Bazelon’s Slate article today about her family’s environmentalism. She and hubby and kids drive a Toyota Prius and recycle and otherwise try to take small steps to reduce their impact on the environment. My family, like hers, is modestly engaged in everyday environmentalism. We’ve had a Prius for three years (but we get closer to 48 mpg! Take that, Bazelon!). We recycle too, and buy a bunch of eco-products around the house (unbleached napkins, anyone?) and so forth. We belong to Co-op America, an organization promoting environmental consumerism, where my wife used to work. And certainly I agree with Bazelon’s baseline sentiment:
I want to make sure Eli and Simon never utter the kid version of the sort of overbearing environmentalism exemplified by this New Yorker quote: “I do daily yoga with my wife. We live in an energy-efficient house with solar-panel appliances. We use organic linens and towels. We try to ride bikes to work.” Don’t you want to punch this guy? I do.
Yes, I do too. Not because of all these things he does, but because he seems holier-than-thou. I convulsed in laughter at the South Park episode “Smug Alert!” about how all the “Toyota Pious” drivers are creating a dangerously toxic cloud of “smug.” (Kyle’s smug-emitting father, who briefly moves the family to San Francisco in the episode, is pictured above). Funny, because so often true.
But here’s where I part ways from Bazelon: I’m not particularly worried that my daughter will turn into some arrogant busybody environmentalist because I drive a Prius. I suppose I hope to pass on my core values to her, but those include not just environmental awareness but also humility, tolerance, a sense of humor, and most of all not being an insufferable jerk.
Indeed, fretting about this whole question strikes me as just the sort of hyper-conscious parenting that also makes me want to punch people sometimes. (Not that I ever do. I am far too peace-loving, of course.) Be a good role model on the smugness front, scold your kids if they get snooty, and hopefully it all works out. Don’t overthink it. Right?
And there’s one more antidote: we recently bought a used minivan to be our second car, and, at least for now, my daughter (age 3) likes it a lot better. Mostly because the doors slide.