Michael Pollan: Why Bother Going Green?

The always-eloquent Michael Pollan has published another op-ed piece in the New York Times that should be required reading for everyone, this time on the question of making life changes to reduce your impact on the environment and your contribution to climate change. “Why bother?” he asks, when your efforts potentially will make such a small difference, given that you’re competing with new Chinese middle class eager to consume their fair share.

Pollan goes on to make a very compelling argument as to exactly why you should bother, and he suggests a way you can start: Plant a garden. Just the act of growing some of your own food can naturally lead to other life changes that will enable us to think differently about our predicament and how we, each one of us, can contribute to solving the problem of global warming:

Yet the sun still shines down on your yard, and photosynthesis still works so abundantly that in a thoughtfully organized vegetable garden (one planted from seed, nourished by compost from the kitchen and involving not too many drives to the garden center), you can grow the proverbial free lunch — CO2-free and dollar-free. This is the most-local food you can possibly eat (not to mention the freshest, tastiest and most nutritious), with a carbon footprint so faint that even the New Zealand lamb council dares not challenge it. And while we’re counting carbon, consider too your compost pile, which shrinks the heap of garbage your household needs trucked away even as it feeds your vegetables and sequesters carbon in your soil. What else? Well, you will probably notice that you’re getting a pretty good workout there in your garden, burning calories without having to get into the car to drive to the gym. (It is one of the absurdities of the modern division of labor that, having replaced physical labor with fossil fuel, we now have to burn even more fossil fuel to keep our unemployed bodies in shape.) Also, by engaging both body and mind, time spent in the garden is time (and energy) subtracted from electronic forms of entertainment.

You begin to see that growing even a little of your own food is, as Wendell Berry pointed out 30 years ago, one of those solutions that, instead of begetting a new set of problems — the way “solutions” like ethanol or nuclear power inevitably do — actually beget other solutions, and not only of the kind that save carbon. Still more valuable are the habits of mind that growing a little of your own food can yield. You quickly learn that you need not be dependent on specialists to provide for yourself — that your body is still good for something and may actually be enlisted in its own support. If the experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these are skills and habits of mind we’re all very soon going to need. We may also need the food. Could gardens provide it? Well, during World War II, victory gardens supplied as much as 40 percent of the produce Americans ate.

If you are inspired by Pollan’s great piece, start with these instructions on how to build a square foot garden from Frugal Dad — this is very similar to the vegetable garden my husband and I built in our front yard. This type of gardening is easy, can be constructed in less than a day anywhere where there is adequate sunlight and will produce rewards very quickly. I can practically guarantee you that one garden box will lead you down the proverbial “garden path” (ha ha) to growing more and more. I’d love to do away with all our grass entirely someday and have a front “lawn” of herbs, flowers, vegetables and berry bushes.

Speaking of which, the family needs to get out and start this year’s garden! I wonder if the baby is old enough to pull weeds yet?

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2 thoughts on “Michael Pollan: Why Bother Going Green?

  1. Frugal Dad 21 April 2008 at 12:14 pm

    Thanks for mentioning my square foot garden post. It has been great fun watching the plants grow, and in just a couple weeks we hope to see the “fruits” of our labor with some early summer vegetables!

  2. OraraSimiMymn 20 May 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Terrific writing!! I will come back again soon.

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