According to a poll just released by Gallup, climate change and “the quality of the environment” ranked near the bottom of a list of 15 “national problems” Americans worry about — way below “the economy,” “unemployment,” and “the size and power of the federal government.” Indeed, more Americans are worried about “the availability and affordability of energy” than about climate or the environment. (They should be, if green anti-energy policies continue to gain traction.)

No doubt there are a variety of factors that explain such poll results, but I wonder if part of the explanation is that people are burned out from green guilt mongering. The constant refrain from the environmentalist movement is that our affluent lifestyle is destroying the planet, and nothing we do to change it is ever enough.

This  New York Times article from a few years ago describes the phenomenon, starting with an anecdote about a woman who, trying to lighten her impact on the environment, “dutifully lugged” heavy, reusable glass milk bottles back and forth from the grocery store.

Cutting out disposable paper cartons, she reasoned, meant saving trees and reducing waste.

Or not. A friend, also a committed environmentalist, recently started questioning her good deed. “His argument was that paper cartons are compostable and lightweight and use less energy and water than the heavy bottles, which must be transported back to a plant to be cleaned and reused,” she said. “I have no idea which is better, or how to find out.”

The article gives example after example of similar “green dilemmas”: issues where environmentalists will debate endlessly over which lifestyle choice has a bigger impact on the environment, a bigger “ecological footprint”:

[A]re low-energy compact fluorescent bulbs better than standard incandescents, even if they contain traces of mercury? Which salad is more earth-friendly, the one made with organic mixed greens trucked from thousands of miles away, or the one with lettuce raised on nearby industrial farms? Should they support nuclear power as a clean alternative to coal?

I find these debates fascinating for the insights that they reveal about the actual goals of the environmentalist movement and its quasi-religious guilt mongering. One can often learn as much about an intellectual movement by looking at where its followers disagree and fall short, than from where they agree.

I’ll explore some of these “green dilemmas” in future posts.