Last week I attended a panel discussion at NYU with the intriguing, if somewhat embarrassing, title of “Extreme Green.” After working with dozens of NYU administrators whose ideas of sustainability end at the recycling bin, I was somewhat skeptical of how “extreme” the event would be. I was forced to admit, though, that the event’s organizers had assembled quite the verdy cast of characters: primitivist Gallatin alum Rob Archangel, forest green superstar Colin Beavan (No Impact Man), NYU sustainability director and Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage cofounder Cecil Schieb, and freegan spokeswoman Madeline Nelson.
And the panel didn’t disappoint. Between Rob’s glorification of hunter-gatherer societies, Colin’s entreaties on the personal benefits of living a low-impact life, and Cecil’s tales of strawbale and naked ice skating, it was clear that there was to be nothing even remotely lime about the proceedings.
Just as importantly, though, there was plenty of disagreement to go round. The speakers were unanimously opposed to consumerism, for example, but their ideas of what to do about it could hardly have been more different. Madeline, a former communications director at Barnes and Noble, spoke of toppling the global corporate system by boycotting the capitalist economy as much as possible. Cecil, as the radical in a suit and tie, responded with his counter-vision of the edifice of capitalism slowly engulfed in a mass of engineered vines. Rob, meanwhile, predicted a peak-oil induced collapse that might be avoided by those who revert to more indigenous ways of living.
The incredible thing was, I found myself agreeing with all of them. There were no obviously specious arguments, no viewpoints that took the easy way out. Instead, there was impassioned debate about the very real issues confronting our society – exactly what we need to be seeing more of from influential institutions like NYU. And while each of the panelists were full of great stories and quotable phrases, the most insightful comment of the evening might have come from the moderator, my good friend Jeremy Freidman: when you really think about it, it’s not anyone on the panel that’s living an “extreme” lifestyle. It’s the rest of us.