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September 29, 2009

NYC Greener Than Vermont? Sure, If Air Pollution and Epic Waste Is Green.


If green is the new black and gay is the new green, then that must make New York City the new gay. Whatever.

Anyway, what I mean to say is that, according to an article in the inimitable, hard-hitting news org Time magazine, the Big Apple is greener than the Green Mountain State. But how is that possible? I mean, I'm no Bill McKibben or anything, but Vermont is the essence of green. We invented green. Green didn't exist before Vermont cooked it up in a secret underground lab.

The photo at the right is what environmentalists look like in New York City. Not really. It's a giant rat.

Time gets this little morsel of highly inflammatory information from someone named David Owen, who apparently wrote a book smearing Vermont and praising New York City for being environmental stewards on par with John flipping Muir. Owen's new book Green Metropolis: What the City Can Teach the Country About True Sustainability posits that New York City is the greenest city in America. Um, has he ever been to Queens? Just wondering.

In a September 24 Q&A with Time transcriber Claire Suddath, Owen calls out Vermont for not being anywhere close to green. By Owen's standards, we're not even chartreuse or aquamarine. We might as well be soot colored.

According to Owen, the environmental impact is higher per capita here in Vermont than it is in New York City. Owen scolds us for using more electricity, oil and water than they do in New York. Well, that's because it's about negative 300 degrees here and we need to not freeze to death. With their population density, they have all that human body heat to keep them warm. Also, we probably use more water because we like to shower, because we're not dirty sewer rats.

Owen also says that the average Vermonter burns 540 gallons of gasoline a year. The average New Yorker burns just 90. Big whup. That's because New Yorkers don't own cars because the parking costs are outrageous. It's not because they're inherently more environmental than we are. To own a car in New York costs about what it costs to send a kid to fracking NYU. When you're already paying $3000 a month for a bed-sit in a sixth-floor walk-up, owning a car is hardly tops on the priority list.

Owen's thesis seems a bit flimsy when you look at the issue of intent. Do New Yorkers make a conscious effort to live more sustainable lives and in doing so make a smaller carbon footprint? No. Well, maybe some do. But they all live in Brooklyn. It's by default that they're supposedly more green than us. How could they not be? They're all living on top of each other, eating each other's scraps, Dumpster diving out of necessity and shopping for clothes in the gutter. Minus the people who live in the Upper East Side. That's what their maids are doing.

If traffic didn't bring on a complete tsunami of anxiety and if you could actually get anywhere by car in less than two hours in Manhattan, New Yorkers would be ditching their bus passes for a Hummer in no time. And not one of those pussy hybrid Hummers, neither.

Also in the interview, Owen suggests that traffic jams are actually a good thing because they deter people from driving, thus making the world a better place. Traffic jams send people down to the subway where they get mugged, raped, stabbed with a shiv and thrown onto the tracks where rats then eat their eyeballs out and hooligans spray them with urine. Traffic jams might get people to use public transportation, but people — mainly people from New Jersey — still drive in the city. 

I'm not saying Owen doesn't know what he's talking about. He's a staff writer at the New Yorker, which means that he's way more important than I am, but I think he has his facts a little wonky. You can't be an environmentalist by default. It doesn't count. Those aren't the rules. You have to make a choice and then suffer through it, all the while patting yourself on the back for saving the planet. You don't see New Yorkers doing that now, do you?

"Owen's thesis seems a bit flimsy when you look at the issue of intent." Intent has nothing to do with his thesis. In fact, he never says or implies that New Yorkers want to be greener than Vermonters. But he is correct in stating that they are, whether they like it or not.

Clearly you believe intentions to be more important than results, but that doesn't make Owen's facts "a little wonky."

what jimmy said. Who cares how VT markets itself? We are a rural state, and that means a lot of us drive great distances. I know a good chunk of people that commute to Burlington from Grand Isle, Swanton and even North Troy. GHG emissions from transportation is a large chunk of our carbon footprint, so regardless of how much local produce you eat, odds are that you are belching out more GHG than a NYC resident.

There is little more to this post than snarky, greener-than-thou posturing without facts to bolster your case. And that's unfortunate, because the Time article is interesting. I hope people click through to read it.

Dumb post. You're letting all the praise for your last post go to your head. There's real information here and real things to think about, and its an absolute fact the Vermont is not as green as we all like to think it is. This sort of denial and the lame attempts at snarky humor just come off as ignorance and a sense of frivolous entitlement. I expect better from 7 Days.

Dear Epic Blurt Fail, et al.

Yes, I have let the praise of my last post go to my head. You should see it — it's the size of medicine ball. I could barely pull my sweater on this morning.

Surely, I would not deny that there was interesting information in that interview. And I'm sure Mr. Owen's book is full of nifty tidbits and figures as well. But I question the notion that gross carbon output is what determines greenness.

I challenge the author and the esteemed, albeit anonymous, commenters to find a state that makes more of a wholesale, conscious effort to live sustainably. Because I've lived all over the country and have yet to find a place that rivals Vermont in terms of stewardship.

Again, you're criticizing Owen for failing to prove something that he's not trying to prove. There's a difference between "he's wrong" and "he's right but I think other things are more important." Part of that difference is that the former might justify linking to an interview and basing a long blog post about it, whereas the latter really doesn't.

Dear "Jimmy,"

In my humble opinion, the idea of intent is implicit when you're talking about being green. If I walk to the corner store because it's less of a hassle than driving, I'm not "being green." If I choose to walk to work everyday rather than drive to minimize my personal impact on the environment, I'd say that's being green. I think my criticism, if you can even call it that, stems from the co-opting of the term green for anything that does not have an adverse environmental effect. It's with the nomenclature that I have a problem.

You might have gone with that angle in your post, then, rather than the whole "yeah but it's not our fault" thing. ("It's by default that they're supposedly more green than us.")

My dictionary supports both your definition of "green" and Owens'. I would say that means he's not wrong in using the term, and right in everything else he says - that "everything else" being, you know, his main premise, that NYC has less of an environmental impact per capita than VT - so I'm still wondering which of his facts are "wonky."

I would accept your "challenge" if I didn't believe from your previous example as well as your response that any facts I might introduce that were not consistent with your passionately held preconception would just be dismissed as meaninglessly "wonky" in a glib and self-congratulatory manner.

One can choose to live in a dense urban environment like New York rather than, say, opting for a single-family home in a suburban or rural setting in Vermont. Given the per-capita difference in energy usage alone, the urban choice certainly ought to be recognized as "green." The book in question rightfully suggests that people can have all the best intentions and make "a conscious effort to live sustainably" but still miss the mark when their environmental impacts are totaled. Of course, one can be snarky about it and pretend otherwise. That's entertainment.

It is wonderful to have good intentions but in this debate the bottom line is what matters.

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