Smug Alert!

south park.jpgI 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.

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4 Responses

  1. PG says:

    That’s not nearly as bad as the people the NYTimes profiled. They made this Civic hybrid buyer wish for an SUV.

  2. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    I’ve never personally encountered smug environmentalists, learning about them instead through the media, and thus wonder if this is a class phenomenon. I suspect much middle and upper class environmentalism is an endeavor to consume without guilt, the consumption levels remaining largely unchanged: hence the new “green” cars, houses, what have you. In any case, I wonder if blogging about one’s “modestly engaged in everyday environmentalism” is all that different, apart from its affectations of discretion.

  3. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    I’ve never personally encountered smug environmentalists, learning about them instead through the media, and thus wonder if this is a class phenomenon. I suspect much middle and upper class environmentalism is an endeavor to consume without guilt, the consumption levels remaining largely unchanged: hence the new “green” cars, houses, what have you. In any case, I wonder if blogging about one’s “modestly engaged in everyday environmentalism” is all that different, apart from its affectations of discretion.

  4. smugly says:

    It’s not considered respectably to be smug/pious. But suppose that the smug/pious approach is actually the right one, as far as the merits of protecting the environment. Should we avoid the proper course of action merely to escape the disdain of our neighbors? This will further doom us.