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Move over Soccer Mom – meet Ecomom

‘Eco-motherhood’, which encourages a morbid preoccupation with waste and guilt about having kids, won’t save the planet – but it might just drive you crazy.

Nancy McDermott

Topics Politics

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Move over ‘Soccer Mom’, ‘Alpha Mom’ and ‘Slacker Mom’. In the US, there’s a new mom on the block and she’s on a mission to save the planet. Meet Ecomom.

She’s not just a little bit green – after all, we’re all a little bit green in the age of the recycling bin. She’s Green with a capital G, as in knowing-your-carbon-footprint green. And whether she’s hobnobbing with celebrity Ecomoms like Laurie David, Sheryl Crow or Robin Wright Penn, hosting an Ecomom party or simply topping up the compost pile before Pilates class, she’s the new new-mom and her concerns about toxins in the home, organic produce and low-impact living have come to dominate the pages of parenting and lifestyle magazines.

Ecomom even made the New York Times this month in a front-page article entitled, ‘For Ecomoms, Saving Earth Begins at Home’. The accompanying photo showed a room full of affluent women sipping wine and watching a speaker from the Ecomom Alliance holding forth about the beauty of carbon offsets for easing the eco-guilt of air travel.

According to Kimberly Danek Pinkson, the founder of the Ecomom Alliance, there are over 82million mothers in the US who together represent ‘a powerful force for positive change’. All well and good, but who is Ecomom and why would we want to go to her parties?

Again, Kimberly Danek Pinkson is a good starting point. This is no grim, hemp-wearing eco-warrior. In fact the most striking thing about her is she’s just so normal and nice. The words ‘sprightly’ and ‘effervescent’ spring to mind. She leaps into the frame of the Ecomom Challenge video in which she outlines the first 10 steps to becoming an Ecomom. The steps are the usual suspects you might see bulleted in any article on ‘green living’, things like putting in low-energy light bulbs, washing in cold water, unplugging those energy-guzzling cellphone chargers, etc. Buying carbon offsets to make up for airline flights is the only thing that seems even vaguely cutting edge – and just in case all that light-bulb changing was too much, she reminds us to look after ourselves. Play with your kid, have fun! ‘Sustain yourself and sustain the planet!’ Whoo hoo!

Another flavour of Ecomom is the mysteriously nameless mother who writes the blog, ‘GreenAndCleanMom (how being green can be sassy, sexy and fun!)’. Her blog features a photograph of her sleeping children and the caption ‘How could I let them get hurt?’. Who wouldn’t want to protect sleeping children? GreenAndCleanMom (GACM) writes a lot about all the dangerous toxins contained in common household products, and though it’s unclear what makes this sassy and sexy, she can a least point you in the direction of safe alternatives. She even markets a wonderful product herself, and she will gladly send you a sample. And just in case your invitation to the Ecomom party got lost in the mail, it’s also possible to attend an online eco-party with GACM, where you can shop (if you like – no pressure), chat and learn about the poisons in your home. And perhaps, if you really hit it off, GACM will let you in on the Multi-Level Marketing scheme she touts on her other blog MLM Mommy, for, as GACM reminds us in the recorded message on her web page, ‘Green is the color of money’.

Actually, if there’s a common theme running through many ‘Ecomom’ resources it is, ironically, that of shopping – for ‘green, sustainable products’, of course. The website Green Mom Finds is entirely devoted to it. Now Ecomoms can live ‘eco-fabulously’ through the purchase of bamboo onesies, sustainable pencils and eco-kitty litter.

The list of green products marketed to Ecomom is truly staggering. In addition to BPA-free bottles, there are plastic toys without phthalates, organic hemp infant clothing and organic wool mattresses. There are cleaning products, paints, sustainable furniture, organic-fair-trade-local foods and hormone-free milk. And though it all can get rather expensive after a while, you can always make do with less. Mothers wield the power of the household pocket book and it is largely through their role as consumers, we’re told, that they make their greatest impact – that is to say, the least impact on the planet.

This means Ecomom needn’t do very much. In fact, an article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer counsels that ‘the easiest way to add green to your family’ is to ‘stop doing a few things’. Stop driving so much, stop turning up the heat when it’s cold, stop doing laundry in the daytime, stop buying bottled water. It’s really a matter of lifestyle. And yet, one can’t help but wonder: if it’s so easy to be green, and the stakes are so high (melting glaciers, rising seas, dead polar bears), why are Ecomoms’ horizons so low?

For instance, Parents for Climate Protection, a group of Ecomoms dedicated to influencing policy, are upfront about and even proud of their low-impact model of organisation. ‘The focus is on “getting the work done” rather than on fund-raising, agenda-setting, networking, and membership drives. We are effective because we are a small, mobile and simple organisation that does not require more labour than our schedules permit.’

Ironically, it is precisely because being an Ecomom is so focused on the minutiae of everyday life that it is ultimately so oppressive and overwhelming. Amy Linn, a regular contributor to Grist, a green lifestyle publication, admits: ‘It’s hard not to have a high-blood-pressure moment when we’re faced with data about the poisons in our world, the exposures we’ve had to the poisons, the exposures our children may have had to the poisons, and the fact that setting things right will take a daunting effort involving governments, corporations, courts, and citizens around the globe.’ For Linn the answer is to do what’s ‘doable’, such as ‘throwing out the old plastic bowls in my cupboards, giving the non-organic apples in the fridge to the pet rabbits’. She started buying bottled organic milk from a local dairy, eighty-sixed her ‘noxious toilet-bowl cleaner’, bought her daughter a puppy and some recycled facial tissues.

The problem with focusing on lifestyle and behaviour is that it doesn’t work. We all understand this on some level. If it is really true, as it says on the Ecomom Alliance website, that ‘leading scientists, including NASA’s top officials, say that we have 10 years to change the course of global warming’, then changing light bulbs and drinking tap water from an eco-friendly Sigg flask just isn’t going to cut it. Not even if everyone did the same.

The dilemma for Ecomom is that she doesn’t see any other solution. This is partly because while our behaviour is the one obvious thing we can control, there’s an inherent problem with the logic of the green outlook itself. An editorial from Eco-chick.com (because Mother Nature is a woman) is very clear: ‘For us all to live as healthfully as we can, while still leaving places for nature to be nature, there have to be fewer people. This is the only way I can see for human beings to continue into the future without using up all the resources on Earth.’

She goes further: ‘I’m not suggesting that we legislate the number of children people have, but I think we should question this whole idea that it’s “OK” or responsible in some way to have two or three kids.’

For environmentalists, people are the problem. They are helpful, but only in so far as they limit their impact. In practice this means lots of individuals playing their little parts and hoping there will be a tipping point. In reality, change has never come about through the sum total of many individual actions. Whatever the state of the world today, we have come to it through the shared vision, imagination and will of human beings. Only that same humanity has the potential to transform the world in positive ways. Anything that seeks to diminish our aspirations and channel them into a morbid preoccupation with the waste we produce simply by virtue of existing (that is, your carbon footprint) creates a serious barrier to finding genuine ways to make a better world for ourselves and our children.

And besides, the nano-focus on every aspect of your home life will drive you crazy. So, moms of America, when that invitation to the Ecomom party arrives in your inbox, hug your two or three kids and just say ‘no’.

Nancy McDermott is a writer and mother-of-two based in New York.

Previously on spiked

Jennie Bristow suggested parents get real about nappies and argued that having children is good for parents and society. Josie Appleton suggested we stop living ethically, and start living. Robert Smeaton thought that Real Nappy Week stinks. Brendan O’Neill described carbon offsets as eco-enslavement. Or read more at spiked issue Ethical living.

(1) Green and Clean Mom

(2) Working Dad: take baby steps in going green, Seattle Post–Intelligencer 21 February 2008

(3) Parents for Climate Protection: Philosophy

(4) Go Forth and Be Underwhelmed: Thoughts on surviving life after Brood Awakenings, Grist

(5) ‘The Avoided Topic’, Ecochick.com

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics

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