I spent my teenage years at Ground Zero for 1970's Environmentalism. Marin County, California had a mixture of hippies and affluent Progressives who preached recycling and water conservation long before it was fashionable. The water conservation part was a no-brainer, Marin County had a prolonged drought in the late seventies and flushing your toilet until it was absolutely necessary was a major faux pas.
Marin County is still pretty crunchy, but nothing like the seventies. There are McMansions in Bolinas, a town that used to remove the signage along the back roads so tourists couldn't find the place. For what it's worth, Bolinas was where we got all our good pot when we were teens.
Anyway, all this exposure to Hippies, Yuppies and proto-Eco Politics has had an effect on the rest of my life. You don't rub elbows with the likes of Stewart Brand , Werner Erhard and Jerry Garcia when you're kid and not come away with something to show for it. In my case it was disdain for hippies; I spent High School in a motorcycle jacket and green hair, but I made sure to separate my trash and take my cotton net bags to the market.
"Get to the point" you're muttering, I am, I am.
Scrolling through the NY Times today (electronic edition, not dead tree, thank you!) I read an interesting article, that hit on one of my pet peeves; Suburbs. In the interest of balance, I live in a suburban setting and have for most of my life so I'm a hypocrite AND a qualified critic.
My problem with suburbs are pretty universal. Inefficient usage of land, destruction of wildlife habitat, chemical drenched lawns, lack of pedestrian infrastructure.. The list goes on and on. The classic suburb is over-reliant on cars, breeds hideous strip malls and consumes massive amounts of resources to prop up an ersatz "Country" lifestyle.
The suburb's most dubious achievement is the Gated Community with it's attendant HOA. The Home Owner's Association is a great idea in theory, property values are protected, common spaces are maintained and amenities are made possible. The problem is that HOAs often get taken over by the more Totalitarian-minded residents and things like vegetable gardens, compost piles and clotheslines are ruled out as blights.
The point of my rant is this: If you're going to live outside the city, why would you abandon the very things that make the country-side so attractive? Why bulldoze woods and replace it with acres of golf course-like lawns that your job in the city won't give you the time to maintain on your own? Why, oh why do you find neat rows of tomatoes and clothes drying in the sun so offensive?
In many cases, that zero lot line McMansion plopped down in developments with twee names like "Northpointe at Creek Run" used to be an actual farm, with actual crops and animals and presumably land values got to a point that the original owners were resigned to cashing out.
Farmers who hold out may eventually find themselves in court for so-called "quality of life" issues like odors and escaped livestock. I'm not going to mince any words here, anyone who moves next door to a farm and starts bitching about the operation deserves to be buried in the annual out-put of manure from said farm.
Marin County saw the writing on the wall over twenty years ago. The mostly agricultural western half of the county was being eyed as prime development land and the ranchers and farmers banded together with environmentalists to form The Marin Agricultural Land Trust.
The sprawl that exploded into the East and South Bay Area in the 1980's could have easily happened in the coastal hills of Marin if it weren't for MALT. I am not anti-growth and I will defend anyone's right to live where they choose, but farms and ranches have a greater value to society than a gated enclave full of mock Tudors, lit up at night like casinos with punched-in landscaping.
As a suburbanite, I try to practice what I preach. I grow a considerable amount of my own food in my yard. I compost my leaves and lawn clippings, keep my car trips to a minimum and sort my trash religiously. I need to make a better effort at harvesting rainwater and diverting my grey water. I gave up on the lawn a long time ago and if it weren't for the size of the lot, I would have gotten rid of the lawn tractor. Obviously, I'm not living a completely green life. My business is closely tied to suburb-dwellers, but I'm making an effort to balance my own use of resources.
In a perfect world, we would all be carbon-neutral and self-sustaining, but that lack of perfection shouldn't deter us from trying. We don't have to replace every light bulb in the house all at once or turn the whole lawn over to food production, but we can set goals for ourselves and our communities to lessen our impact and edge closer to a greener suburb.