Keeping It Clean
Some thoughts to help you choose the right guide for going green:
Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life
by Ed Begley, Jr.
240 pp., Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2008
The Green Book: The Everyday Guide to Saving the Planet One Simple Step at a Time
by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M. Kostigen
201 pp., Three Rivers Press, 2007
Wake Up and Smell the Planet: The Non-Pompous, Non-Preachy Grist Guide to Greening Your Day
175 pp., Skipstone Books, 2007
Reviewed by Spencer Todd Hirsch
If you grew up in my generation, you were raised on episodes of "Sesame Street,” where Kermit the Frog complained of the woes of being green. You remember Kermit's nasal vocals, and the hymn that sang of green's difficulties and its obstacles.
By now, you're well beyond childhood, and that song, the one that suggested that "it isn't easy being green,” is merely an old tune. For those of you who want to see just how easy it really is, here are a few guides that will keep you green without breaking a sweat.
For starters, there's lesser-known actor and environmentalist, Ed Begley, Jr. You might recognize the name from various Christopher Guest movies, including "Best in Show” and "A Mighty Wind,” and you may remember some hairy appearances on the prematurely cancelled Arrested Development. Modest Ed offers up his advice in the newly-released, Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life.
Be prepared to carry along a sizable chunk of green to begin with, as the guide clocks in at a hefty $18.00. Clarkson Potter/Publishers took into account the price for printing on 100% postconsumer recycled paper.
But Ed and wife, Rachelle, walk you through the necessary steps to greening your life; not the minutiae of refusing ATM receipts and shorter showers, but actual bullets that will make a difference in a long-term kind of way.
Suggested changes are marked as being Easy, Not-So-Big, and Big. A typical Easy suggestion might recommend a second layer before turning up the heat. Cost: free. An approachable Not-So-Big proposes riding a bike to work. Cost: range of reasonable pricing based on used bike shops in your area. Simply Big adjustments include such overwhelming advice as "Harness the Wind” or "Install an Urban Windmill.” Cost: $3,000-6,000. It's a matter-of-fact process, and it describes the dilemma as it really is.
Highlights of Begley's guide include a full chapter on health and skin care, and an early dedication to Bruno Kirby. A detailed, fill-in workbook is attached for the committed reader.
It's honest, essay shape can make for a depressing read. The tome tells the truth, outlining the rocky and uncharted territory that leads to an environmentally-sound future. But thanks to resourcefulness and cold sincerity, Ed's story might be the best guide on the market. So take deep breaths, make small steps, and see if you can scrounge together 18 bucks.
Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M. Kostigen offer a similar appeal in The Green Book: The Everyday Guide to Saving the Planet One Simple Step at a Time . To compensate for lack of celebrity in authorship, the Oprah-endorsed duo includes an unnatural bombardment of movie stars in their guide for the green.
Each chapter concludes with the personal thoughts of a household name. Some choices seem classic and well-formed. Robert Redford writes, "What has always given me hope is that small steps can lead to sea change. As important as is the big picture, there's profound power in pulling it down to a manageable scale, to bringing it home.”
This guidebook seems bent on attaching names to a content that should sell itself. And that leaves this reader wondering what the celebrity names are making up for. At an informal price of $12.95, the guide is well-written and easily-recognizable. But with the combination of mindless filler and constant name-dropping, I wouldn't recommend it.
Grist.org, known for its environmental news and online commentary, has published Wake Up and Smell the Planet: The Non-Pompous, Non-Preachy Grist Guide to Greening Your Day . Don't worry. There's no advertised attachment to celebrity names. Grist appears to be pure. With an accessible agenda for superficial changes, and a self-proclaimed "cool,” this guide's not bad.
It fails in its reliance on what Ed would label the Easy and the Not-So-Big, and overlooks the daunting inconvenience of the just plain Big. But Grist's layout is superior, and at $14.95, the price beats Ed's, though green rarely comes cheap.
The choice is yours, and there's nothing wrong with starting small with the Grist and working your way up to Ed. But if you really want to save the planet, look for any of these guides, not at the bookshop, but at your local public library.
Spencer Todd Hirsch has an English degree from the University of Washington.