Embracing the Treehugger

How humor can sustain the ‘green’ movement

Ask a Treehugger?! You’ve got to be kidding?

On my second day at SN&R, the paper’s previously titled environmental advice column became my responsibility. Though excited to help readers make sustainable choices, I detested the term ‘treehugger.’ It sounded so juvenile. It made me think of a kid squinting through his thick glasses and pointing his chubby finger at the first long-haired man he’d ever seen.

How are people going to take my “green” advice seriously if all they can envision is a 6-year-old with a wedgie?!

I was fresh out of Seattle, Wash., the land of high-minded progressives who use two jargony, politically correct and socially sensitive sentences to say what the average American could articulate in a few short words. I probably wanted to call the column “Ask a progressive person of undisclosed faith, sexual and ethnic orientation how one can work within the framework of sustainability to create environmental justice for all peoples” or something.

But the truth is that deep down I’m pretty lighthearted. And I can laugh at myself. More and more, I see the need for humor to offset all the high-mindedness that surrounds the “green” movement. All the politicking; the greenwashing; the power-word-dropping (local is so the new organic); the scorn that would be more effective if substituted for an offer to inform, politely—all of it can alienate people. And alienation is the last thing we have time for while the climate is in crisis.

Since I started writing Ask a Treehugger in July, I’ve received a bounty of questions that prove you genuinely want to make a difference, Sacramento. You asked how to green your dorm room, your office cubicle, your next big party. You wanted to know if it’s better for the environment to use a bathroom hand dryer than a paper towel (yes), if it’s possible to recycle shredded paper (yes), if you should choose “plastic” in the grocery store checkout line (no). You asked if it’s possible to compost indoors (yes), if it’s better to fly than drive (no). You even wanted to know if sex toys had gone “green” (yes, yes, yes!).

The Treehugger provided researched answers to each of your questions, and couched those answers in the voice of mock pretension—a chorus of voices I’ve been surrounded by for the past five years.

The column is meant to put you at ease, to highlight the humor in the green movement’s more trivial affectations. To allow you to point your finger at the character drowning in his own obsession with social acceptability and call that character a silly old treehugger. Most importantly, the column is intended to highlight the fact that there’s something way more important to obsess over: The world’s climate is changing.

Global warming is more than dinner party discussion. It’s a real threat that we can all take active steps to curb. But it takes a unified force of people who want their future generations to enjoy a healthy planet. So point your fingers, squint and call it whatever you want. Just don’t be afraid to ask questions. Write to AskATreehugger@newsreview.com.