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Six Degrees

10/4/2006 12:00:00 AM


After putting the November/December issue of Natural Home to bed, I scrambled last week to prepare a speech to give on Saturday at West Coast Green, a momentous gathering of eco-minded designers, builders and product manufacturers that took place in San Francisco.

The event was terrific. More than 7,500 people attended two days of professionals-only workshops and presentations, and a heartwarming number of homeowners showed up when the conference opened to the public on Saturday. My speech…well, I’ve given better. In the narcissistic dissection that inevitably follows such an event (at least for me), I’ve found myself musing for the past couple of days about what I said, didn’t say and could have said at the podium.

The organizers asked me to talk on the subject of “Green Goes Mainstream,” which seemed easy enough. I’ve been chronicling that very thing in this blog for the past year and a half. The “mainstream” press has been all over green building and renewable energy lately, and Dwell magazine even had those very words emblazoned across its September/October cover.

But as I dug into the research that would give my speech substance, a couple of things stopped me. The first was a crushing statistic: Despite all the great press “clean technology” and renewable energy is getting these days (word is that venture capitalists are jumping on anything labeled “clean tech” just as they did websites in the dot-com era), renewable energy still accounts for only 6 percent of the total U.S. energy market. Six percent. That’s exactly where it was in 1974.

Another thing that stopped me may seem trivial, but it sent me down a rabbit hole that I continue to follow. A study published last week in the journal Psychology of Music found that hip-hop fans are the least likely segment of the population to recycle and to support development of alternative energy sources. I started floating this statistic among my friends. “But of course,” some of them said. “Kids these days don’t care about anything.” (Am I really old enough to have friends who say things like that?) “So what?” said others. But I can’t let go of what this says about who the “green movement” is reaching and how.

Can we really claim that green has “gone mainstream” if we’re not reaching or appealing to this up-and-coming, influential demographic? Whether you love or despise hip-hop music (or just really don’t know much about it), there’s no denying that it carries serious cred in our culture. My Sirius satellite radio has an entire segment devoted to hip-hop channels. Hip-hop superstars lend their weight to everything from designer clothing to bedsheets. There’s big money to be made in hip-hop, and capitalists have taken note.

What I was too shy to say during my speech at West Coast Green was that there’s a certain arrogance implied in the idea that green has gone mainstream because the primarily white, middle- to upper-class segment of our population has taken note. It’s not necessarily a hot topic with my relatives in small-town Iowa, and it’s not being rapped about. Our vision is tunneled.

I dream of the day when we don’t even need to use the label “green,” when living consciously is simply the way we all live. We’re not there yet. Martha Stewart jumped on the bandwagon with her 'Going Green Week' this week. With a little help from Ludacris, we might just get there.

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