New Ills For Modern Society: “Green Fear” and “Range Anxiety”
We may have a new psychological term entering our consciousness soon: green fear. Not fear of the actual color green (though that is apparently a real but rare condition: chromatophobia, or fear of certain colors). But fear of and resistance to green technologies themselves.
It’s no secret that some green technologies like wind turbines have their opponents: some people fight them because they claim they are unsightly, ruin property values and even make people who live near them sick due to light flickering and noise from the turbine blades. (But that’s another story.) Homeowners living near sites for proposed solar panel arrays complain that the panels will ruin views of nature and reflect sunlight back into homes to an annoying and health-threatening degree. Beyond even practical concerns or NIMBY (not in my back yard) feelings, however, there seems to be some real resistance to green technologies for a host of other, more nebulous, reasons.
Individuals building green homes in neighborhoods of traditional houses have met with resistance from other neighbors. While the resistance is usually presented as concern that the house and its green roof or solar panels won’t fit the character of the neighborhood, there appears to be more to it than that. Perhaps some homeowners feel that those building green homes are smugly trying to prove they are more responsible and frugal than those living in two-story white colonials with an oil-burning furnace in the basement. Perhaps traditional homeowners fear their new eco-conscious neighbors who move into the green house will take to growing recreational pharmaceuticals on their green roof, or listening to “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” at full volume during family dinner hour.
Since presumably no one is struck with terror at the sight of solar panels or fuel cells or wakes up in a cold sweat thinking about carbon nanotubes, it’s possible that since green is “new,” the anxiety comes from fear of change. Wrote The Huffington Post’s Marc Stoiber, “The current perception of green – despite all the progress that’s been made – is that of an ‘alternative’…The problem with alternative is that it’s not the status quo…Status quo may be seen as safe and a bit dull, but it’s also tried and true, reassuring, and not risky. It comes with a steady paycheck. Alternative, on the other hand, has newness, excitement and adventure going for it…this perception is tainting the debate on the green economy. For example, supporters of the status quo say the large scale shift to renewable energy will lead to a loss of thousands of jobs that will not re-materialize in solar, wind and other green energy businesses. There is disbelief that an ‘alternative’ could recreate the stability of the status quo.”
Certainly, the desire to remain with the status quo can apply to green fear in the business and manufacturing sectors, as well, and certainly for understandable reasons. The Web site of business consulting firm Maddock Douglas writes, “For corporations, [green] compliance feels a bit like Dad busting up the keg party just when things are getting good. At best, it amounts to someone (usually government) telling you what to do and leaving you holding the bill. At worst, it can blindside you, and leave you limping in your race against foreign competitors.” At least…that’s the perception, if not necessarily the reality.
We might chalk up “green fear” to resistance to new structures – homes, wind turbines or solar panels, tumbling property values or EPA restrictions. But what about something that ought to offend no one: recycling programs, for example? Greg Moore, mayor of Port Coquitlam in British Columbia, recounted what he called a “hostile letter writing campaign” when his city was attempting to implement a curbside organic recycling program. Moore observed that the issue raised more protest – louder and greater in quantity – than when the city proposed a program to build homeless shelters in residential neighborhoods. In other words: homeless folks in my neighborhood are just fine, but don’t you dare try to tell me what to do with my empty tuna can.
Cleary, as the HuffPo’s Stoiber writes, “Sustainability has a perception problem.”
Certainly, “green fear” may be social or even political. A Facebook group called “I Hate Environmentalists” has 328 members. It would appear that its members believe those who tout eco-consciousness to be smug, obnoxious, meddlesome and officious. One post equates green-conscious people with “Marxists.” Many use colorful expletives to theorize about Al Gore’s parental origins. The posts are often poorly spelled and scientifically challenged, but most of them break down into a common theme: dislike of “hippies” and hostility toward what is perceived to be a problem maliciously inflicted by those on the political left onto those on the political right.
Another group called “Resisting The Green Dragon” takes it a step further and brings religion into the mix. The group claims to be a “Christian Response to Radical Environmentalism.” A YouTube video released by the group proclaims that, “Radical environmentalism is striving to put American and the world under its destructive control. This so-called ‘green dragon’ is seducing your children in our classrooms and popular culture. Its lust for political power now extends to the highest global levels. Millions are falling prey to its spiritual deception…It’s deadly to human prosperity. It’s deadly to human life and it’s deadly to freedom.” Finally, the video proclaims that environmentalism is “deadly to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Certainly, these people are on the fringe: most people, left, right or center, don’t view recycling as the work of Beelzebub or find moral repugnance in a solar cell. But tellingly, more than one quarter of the people polled in a study done by British utility provider E.ON UK said they were unwilling to embrace green measures in their places of work “for fear of being ridiculed by colleagues.” No way, mate. No recycling office paper for me: Nigel in the mail room might call me a nancy-boy.
That’s not the fringe: those are ordinary urban office workers.
Beyond reasons political or religious, or just plain stubbornness, there are the conspiracy theories, as well. The Internet has been a blessing to our lives in some ways, but it’s been a helpful evil sidekick when it comes to spreading misinformation, conspiracy theories, pseudo-science and wildly unsubstantiated opinions. The latest widely repeated rumor concerns compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) causing migraine headaches. Google “CFLs cause headaches” and you’ll find millions of results from people claiming that the “flickering” of CFLs has caused them to experience everything from mild headaches to brain tumors to hallucinations.
According to experts, the evidence isn’t there. Neither is the science, wrote Scientific American. Experts report that the issue has become overblown and that there is no scientific evidence that the bulbs are capable of causing headaches except, perhaps, when homeowners choose CFLs that are too low in wattage to light a room, resulting in eye strain while reading or working. The hysteria, it would seem, is entirely Internet-based and resulting from a small number of anecdotal reports.
“Industry experts acknowledge that day-to-day exposure to older, magnetically ballasted long tube fluorescent bulbs found mostly in industrial and institutional settings could cause headaches due to their noticeable flicker rate. The human brain can detect the 60 cycles per second such older bulbs need to refresh themselves to keep putting out light,” wrote Scientific American. “However, modern, electronically ballasted CFLs refresh themselves at between 10,000 and 40,000 cycles per second, rates too fast for the human eye or brain to detect.”
The telling part is that, on the comment pages below the articles accusing CFLs of causing migraines, the opinions start to focus less on the lights causing pain in the head and more about them being a pain in the neck. “I hate the light they provide.” “Who does the government think it is, telling us which light bulbs we have to buy?” and “They’re loaded with poisonous mercury” are some of the more polite comments. (CFLs do contain trace amounts of mercury, but they are not “loaded” with mercury.) Government dictates – incandescent light bulbs will be phased out entirely in the U.S. by 2012, to be replaced by CFLs – breed resentment, change causes fear, and the Internet enables change plus fear to magnify into hatred and hysteria.
Sometimes the hatred lives on for a long time: there are still people griping in Internet chat rooms about the U.S. government’s final phase-out and ban of leaded gasoline in the 1980s and 90s. No doubt, somewhere in the country, someone is angry that it’s now against the law to administer a spoonful of laudanum (an alcohol and opium “tonic” used in the eighteenth and nineteenth century to calm nerves) to a fretful infant or buy arsenic over the counter in a pharmacy to cultivate a pale, romantic complexion.
On the green automotive front, “green fear” has a close cousin. It’s called “range anxiety” and it’s a term that was coined to describe the state of agitation the owner of an electric vehicle is imagined to live in, believing that any moment, the battery on his or her electric car will run out, leaving the motorist stranded at the side of a dark country road at the mercy of evil gangs of roving bikers, small woodland creatures and macho tow-truck drivers wearing t-shirts that announce, “I Eat Environmentalists for Lunch.”
Obviously, “range anxiety” is a real problem for some people. General Motors was surely aware of this when it launched and began
marketing the Chevy Volt, an electric car that also that a a gas engine to serve as a generator for the battery should the juice run out before the motorist has reached his or her destination. GM, according to CarsDirect.com, is so serious about this campaign that it has asked for a U.S. trademark on the phrase “range anxiety.”
So between “green fear” and “range anxiety,” I do hope that the U.S. pharmaceutical industry is being green and responsible in its latest efforts to provide us all with the next generation of eco-conscious anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills. We wouldn’t want something else to fret about.