The New York Times/Sunday Styles
Buying Into the Green Movement
Here's one popular vision for saving the planet: Roll out from under the sumptuous hemp-fiber sheets on your bed in the morning and pull on a pair of $245 organic cotton Levi's and an Armani biodegradable knit shirt.
Stroll from the bedroom in your eco-McMansion, with its photovoltaic solar panels, into the kitchen remodeled with reclaimed lumber. Enter the three-car garage lighted by energy-sipping fluorescent bulbs and slip behind the wheel of your $104,000 Luxus hybrid.
Drive to the airport, where you settle in for an 8,000-mile flight—careful to buy carbon offsets beforehand—and spend a week driving golf balls made from compacted fish food at an eco-resort in the Maldives.
That vision of an eco-sensitive life as a series of choices about what to buy appeals to millions of consumers and arguably defines the current environmental movement as equal parts concern for the earth and making a stylish statement.
Some 35 million Americans regularly buy products that claim to be earth-friendly, according to one report, everything from organic beeswax lipstick from the west Zambian rain forest to Toyota Priuses. With baby steps, more and more shoppers browse among The 60,000 products available under Home Depot's new Eco Options program....
Critics question the notion that we can avert global warming by buying so-called earth-friendly products, from clothing and cars to homes and vacations, when the cumulative effect of our consumption remains enormous and hazardous.
"There is a very common mind-set right now which holds that all that we're going to need to do to avert the large-scale planetary catastrophes upon us is to make slightly different shopping decisions," said Alex Steffen, the executive director or Worldchanging.com, a web site devoted to sustainability issues.
The genuine solution, he and other critics say, is to significantly reduce one's consumption of goods and resources. It's not enough to build a vacation home of recycled lumber; the real way to reduce one's carbon footprint is to only own one home....[Or rent an apartment. Ed.]
Are We Rome?
So again: Are we Rome? One way to answer the question is by assembling a crude ledger of comparisons. My own would start as follows: Leaving aside the knotty and partly semantic issue of what an empire is, and whether the United States truly is one, Rome and America are the most powerful actors in thir worlds, by many orders of magnitude. Their power includes both military might and the "soft power" of language, culture, commerce, technology, and ideas. (Tacitus said of the seductive amenities brought to Britain by Rome, "The simple natives gave the name of 'culture' to this factor of their slavery.") Rome and America are comparable in physical size—the Roman Empire and its Meditrranean lake would fit inside the three million square miles of the Lower Forty-eight states, though without a lot to spare. Both Rome and America created global structures—adminstrative, economic, military, cultural—that the rest of the world and their own citizens came to take for granted, as gravity and photosynthesis are taken for granted. Both are societies made up of many peoples—open to newcomers, willing to absorb the genes and lifestyles and gods of everyone else, and to grant citizenship to incoming tribes from all corners of the earth. And because of this, the identities of both change organically over time. Romans and Americans revel in engineering prowess and grandiosity. Whenever I see the space shuttle, standing upright and inching slowly on its crawler toward the launching pad, I think back to the Rome of Hadrian's day, and the gargantuan statue of the Sun-God, as tall as the shuttle, being dragged into place by twenty-four elephants.
Romans and Americans can't get enough of laws and lawyers and lawsuits. They believe deeply in private property. They relish the ritual humiliation of public figures: Americans through vicious satire, talk radio and Court TV; the Romans through vicious satire, to be sure, but also during the republic, by means of the censoria nota, the public airing, name by name, of everything the great men of the time should be ashamed of. Romans and Americans accept enormous disparities of wealth, and allow the gap to widen. Ramsay MacMullen, one of the most prominent modern historians of Rome, has said that five centuries of imperial social evolution can be reduced to three words: "Fewer have more." Both Romans and Americans treat the nouveaux riches with lacerating scorn, perhaps concealing hints of admiration. (Think of the character Trimalchio in the Satyricon of Petronius; and remember that Fitzgerald's original title for The Great Gatsby was Trimalchio in West Egg.) Both see themselves as a chosen people, and both see their national character as exceptional.
"Girls At Play"—Fortune Sitole