Image credit: Planet Green (with thanks to Chelsea for the hack)
America, love it or leave it, right? Well it ain't that simple.
As any expatriate will tell you, moving countries always brings an astounding mix of conflicting emotions. There's so much new, refreshing and different to celebrate about your new homeland, and yet so much that you took for granted back home. As a UK national who is married to a green American, who just became the father of a green American, and who just received permanent resident status, I thought I'd tally up the things that drive me nuts about The States. But before I annoy all the patriots, I thought it safer and more productive to list the positives too. Because, contrary to what (some) green-minded Euros might think, there's plenty to love about this country.National Parks and Conservation
True, national parks and wildlife refuges are by no means exclusive to the United States, but it is rare to find a country that takes so much pride in these institutions. And it's a pride that seems to cross cultural and political boundaries—I've lost count of how many Americans I've seen get misty eyed as they recount their adventures on the Appalachian Trail, or exploring Yellowstone. And this reverence extends itself to a love of wilderness in general. I've met many folks who will swear blind that man-made climate change is a left wing conspiracy of Chairman Gore, yet they need little convincing that untouched nature is as central to American identity as baseball or flavorless beer (sorry, couldn't resist that one...). Now if we could just make sure that nobody drills in Anwar...
Entrepreneurialism and Innovation
I'm not sure if it's a consequence or a cause of the relatively unfettered brand of capitalism practised here, but I have been amazed by the spirit of American entrepreneurialism. From young students starting green-minded businesses to inventors trying their luck, people here have an idea and run with it, they don't just talk about it in the pub. I can't put my finger on why that is, but I suspect that there is less fear of failure—and we all know you won't get anywhere if you don't try.
I'm constantly amazed by the vibrancy of the American non-profit scene. I suspect this is related to a certain cultural mistrust of government, but I'll talk more about that when I get on to the negatives...
Whatever the root cause, there seems to be a common understanding that charities and community organizations are about more than just altruism or doing a little good in your spare time, but rather they are a core part of how communities look after each other. In short, there's a spirit of service. From Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation to the Rocky Mountain Institute, this country is home to some of the most forward-thinking and innovative non-profits in the world.
Farmer's Markets and Agrarian Traditions Old and New
I keep running into Americans that rave about the traditional markets of Europe, but I for one am in love with the vibrant, lively farmers markets that you find all over America. Not only is there a willingness among customers to support local farmers, but it seems to me that there is a broader, more diverse population of farmers themselves. I'm not clear on whether it's because it's easier to afford land here, or whether many Americans are simply fewer generations removed from the land, but either way, I find it a delight to see how many folks are still pursuing the dream of a few acres and independence.
The Environmental Justice Movement
Like many people, the first time I saw the TED video about Majora Carter of Sustainable South Bronx, it moved me to tears. The more I've come to learn about the environmental justice movement here, the more impressed I've been. Sure, we have plenty of environmental justice campaigns in Europe too, but whether it's Carter's Sustainable South Bronx, Van Jones' Green For All, or Green Jobs Now, the environmental movement in the States is a logical extention of the Civil Rights movement. American greens are, I think, a step ahead in understanding that unless everybody is included in our great green vision, then it really ain't green at all. I just wish someone would explain this all to Glenn Beck.
So there we have it, an opening salvo of love for the Land of the Brave. Anyone else care to list what's great and green about America? Don't worry, there will be plenty of time to explore the negatives next week...