Green Schools

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A month, the New Trier Examiner issued a paper titled “So How Green is Our School?” which was completely dedicated to the environment. I assumed that this was like any good paper—one that gave unbiased testimony and provided the full picture; I had no problems with the idea itself—creating awareness for the environment is a great idea. I tried to approach the articles with an open mind, but it proved hard, as the letters from the editor chastised readers for “exploit[ing] natural resources for our own ends, perpetually ignoring any consequence.” The rest of the paper did not appeal to me either; one choice article: “So How Big is Your Ecological Footprint?” claims that we humans are using “far more than our fair share of the planet,” claiming that “the average US citizen uses up to 2.5 earths.” There was no further explanation of what this actually meant—it was a statement to just shock us. This rhetoric was repeated over and over throughout the paper, and it became clear that the goal of the paper was to make us all feel bad for destroying the planet.
To me, this was just another fad that we students embrace year after year. Students were merely trying to imitate the media and its concern for our planet, as the paper discussed the same things—ethanol, hybrid cars, and Al Gore’s film. As a result, we have also adopted the jargon that the media has used, making green synonymous with environmentalism. And this connection has only been around for 16 years, originating in Germany’s “Green Campaign for the Future” and coming over to the US as Greenpeace and evolving into the Green Party (OED). For a word, that’s pretty new. We embrace this newest sensation is that we like to feel chic and cool. No wonder, then, the school wants to be “green.”
Among all the luxuries that we North Shore students indulge in, we also become aware that our lives are extraordinary ones. We understand that most teenagers do not have designer clothing and expensive cars. Although we feel cool, we also feel awkward—guilty, even—that we are born into such wealth. We don’t like to stand out; we like to be in the middle. The unseen. In class, few want to be known as the smartest student of one that works the hardest, as it makes them different. As the student body, then, few want to be known as the richest kids in town and contribute nothing to society because then we are more than rich; we are stuck-up snobs.
To remedy this unease, students hone in on a new issue—be it obesity or depression—and try to create action. This year our goal is to create “green guilt” to force everyone to contribute to our environmental obsession. The paper was not an unbiased documentary on current events; even the sole article that provided the counterpoint eventually transformed into a scathing denunciation of global warming rejecters: “There are frequent lectures and benefits during which opponents of the theory of global warming attempt to put forth their position. Many of these lectures are sponsored by organizations that want to tell the public that they should not listen to the news, because the recent climate change is not a crisis.” This author had a clear bias towards environmentalism. Furthermore, this was the first paper that used color—green. Clearly, its purpose was to be a slap in the face that immediately brought the environment to mind. But since we students want to be perceived as concerned citizens and not rich snobs, we go for showy displays of care instead of small acts that have a large impact. True, the paper did encourage us to conserve energy and paper, but the overarching theme of it was to tell us that we were causing destruction and death. But this did not create change; students did not raise money for hybrid cars, nor did we lessen our consumption. Ironically, most students did not read this “Green Issue,” but tossed it into the garbage.
So green may mean a color, or represent environmentalism. But it is also a perverse tool used by us New Trier students to create guilt with the goal of feeling better about ourselves. This guilt cannot just disappear, so we dilute it by instilling it into others. Since we only seem to care about what others think, we are not charitable at all—these efforts to save the environment are merely the selfish means to purgatory: to cleanse our guilt that we do not do anything even though we have power to. The lights are still on at New Trier, and the computers are still running. Nothing has been changed. But at least people know that we tried.





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