Over the long holiday weekend, we hope you didn't miss the New York Times' front-page story on "ecomoms." It featured a group of well-to-do women in Marin County, Calif., getting together to swap tips on biodegradable detergent and compact fluorescent bulbs. Think a modern-day version of a Tupperware party with nothing to buy. On their Web site, called the EcoMom Alliance, aspiring ecomoms finds a to-do list that includes 10 first steps. Among them: carpool, don't idle your car when dropping off and picking up the kids, use cold water whenever possible when doing the laundry.
"I used to feel anxiety," said Kathy Miller, 49, an alliance member, who is investigating weather-sensitive irrigation controls for her garden. "Now I feel I'm doing something." It's easy to have fun poking holes in these moms' eco-cred, as the New York Times reporter does, noting the SUV in the driveway at the party. Even the photo accompanying the article shows a bottle of San Pellegrino being served at the gathering. Hasn't the hostess heard about the environmental crimes of bottled water, especially the stuff imported from halfway around the globe?
Then there's the fact that rich people overall consume more than middle-class or poor ones. As the Times notes: "One of the country's wealthiest places, Marin County, is hardly a hub of voluntary simplicity; its global footprint, according to county statistics, is 27 acres per person, a measure of the estimated amount of land it takes to support each person's lifestyle (24 is the American average)." It's enough to make you think that this ecomom trend could inspire a whole new line of yo mama jokes.
Yet, it's heartening to see these mothers taking steps to be greener, and encouraging one another to do so. I am not ashamed to admit that everything from the reusable bags I carry to the grocery store to the kind of diapers my daughter wears has been influenced by the habits of friends I consider much "greener" than I am. After all, there has to be someone for us followers to imitate. So what's wrong with creating an appealing social forum for those connections to be made among peers?
And as Wal-Mart selling organic products goes to show, what once seemed elite can quickly infiltrate the mainstream. Could keeping up with the Joneses soon mean aspiring to have a less toxic living room, rather than a 900-square-foot imported marble master bath? In any case, it's great to read an article about well-heeled mothers in the paper of record for a change that is not dedicated to chronicling new excuses to consume more, like the more typical recent piece on the rise of the push present.
As these Marin County ecomoms strive to make their homes more environmentally friendly and their kids' schools greener, I hope they will put broader political engagement high on their to-do-list as well. Problems like global warming won't be solved at small meetings in living rooms unless those meetings ultimately inspire international action, too. Maybe the next ecomom party could include 15 minutes of writing to members of Congress about climate change in between swapping nontoxic-cleaning tips.