By Keith Kloor | May 8, 2012 12:42 pm

Some of you may be familiar with Portlandia. If not, here’s how the Oregonian describes the satirical IFC show:

It’s a comic portrayal showing a town populated by compulsively organic foodies who interrogate their restaurant server on every detail of the chicken they’re about to order; aggressive bicycle commuters; humorless proprietors of feminist bookstores; and self-righteous animal activists.

One hilarious scene comes at the beginning of season one:

It’s basically a sketch show, a send-up of the (stereotypical) unconventional residents of Portland, Oregon, who have come to reflect the city’s culture. With a little tweaking, it could just as easily be set in Berkley, California or Boulder, Colorado. As one web reviewer writes of Portlandia:

You have met some of the characters before…self involved do-gooders, aged hippies, counter culture losers, the politically correct, protect the dogs but forget the people, people variously stuck in the 70s,80s and 90s all offbeat and most amusing.

If someone were to create a spoof of today’s green culture, the self-consciously hip, do-gooder types who aim to save “mother earth” for future generations (rather than, say, the billions of people already in dire need of a helping hand), it would be called Greenlandia.

The world of Greenlandia also has many colorful, similarly zealous characters, such as No Impact Man and Julia Butterfly Hill. Others are celebrities who have greened their lifestyles on behalf of the planet. Today, green culture in America is a bit schizophrenic, embracing politically correct consumerism but also admiring righteous self-deprivation.

A big problem for the U.S. green movement is that its culture is easily parodied. For example, watch this devastating South Park episode titled, “Smug Alert.” Being associated with the green movement is now seen as problematic for some, like this person who writes at Grist:

I believe in climate change. I ride my bike everywhere, I work at a solar company, I buy organic and local when I can. I am young, liberal, and idealistic. But I’m not an environmentalist.

In Europe, Environmentalism is a political force to contend with. In the United States, it is mocked and marginalized.

There might be a lesson for greens to take from Portlandia. One blog, noting the self-serious culture Portlandia riotously depicts, muses:

What’s interesting about this show is that it might slowly kill off some of the stories that coastal liberals live by (e.g. being ultra-attentitive to our food supply chain, radical political correctness, the gap between liberal attitudes and behaviors, etc.).  It makes a lot of those stories seem ridiculous, fringe and downright silly.

A spinoff called Greenlandia could do the same for greens and the stories they live by.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: environmentalism
  • Tom Fuller

    Can’t watch Portlandia without thinking of a certain virulent climate commenter who lives there. And it makes me smile. But I’m smiling because in addition to disagreeing with his positions vehmently, I also don’t like him–or at least his online persona. And I’m not proud of that.However, if we showed it back to back with Big Love, GCB or any of a number of shows that parody the lifestyles of one particular segment of society we could quickly come to the conclusion that we are all deranged cults and we would move to Patagonia or Papua New Guinea.The green commentary on this and other weblogs comes from those at the far end of the far end. So does the anti-green noise.

  • NewYorkJ

    From the Grist commentary

    So what about legislative-focused environmentalism? Well, ridiculous politicking in Washington has turned even the most mundane issues (birth control?) into partisan fodder. This has resulted in only a handful of significant environmental victories in my lifetime, with all the signs pointing toward fewer to come. 

    One way to turn off the young generation is to make them cynical enough to believe nothing can ever get done in politics, and in a few cases, it’s working.Still, Lisa sees leaders like Van Jones examples of the movement she wants to associate herself with.  

    Leaders of this movement include Van Jones, Majora Carter, Billy Parish, and many others who have made the case that being green isn’t just a way to protect the environment, it’s a way to revitalize our economy, culture, and communities.

    Environmentalists take note: This idea resonated. It resonated for the same reason that so many “environmentalists” jumped ship after the recession. When we’re in survival mode, as so many Americans are right now, the last thing we want is something that will impede our fragile economic growth. Inspire us with the idea that environmental solutions will create jobs, give us some very valid reasons to believe it’s true, and we’ll jump on board. It might be a different ship, but the destination is the same.

    So no, I’m not an environmentalist. I’m a rational human being, just like most Americans who live environmental lives. If we’re truly going to create a more sustainable and equitable economic system, we need to look past the divisions and understand that most of us are on the same side, regardless of the labels we place on ourselves, or choose not to.

    Among those reasons, she cites Joe Romm (Keith’s devil).One wonders who she is fighting exactly.  Perhaps it’s just labels.  Perhaps I’m not an environmentalist, but a rational human being who lives an environmental life.  Feel better now?

  • thingsbreak

    Perhaps someone should capitalize on all of this easily mock-able comedic gold, and create a series that dares to beyond impishly tweaking its own audience on a niche cable channel.

    I’m thinking a show on prime time network television. Maybe created and run by someone with immense success in television, with a South Park-like sensibility. Maybe someone like Mike Judge. The PC jokes practically write themselves!

    It would be basically impossible for such a show not to succeed, amirite?

  • thingsbreak

    @NewYorkJ: “Perhaps it’s just labels.”

    I think that’s largely the case. I don’t think I would label myself an “environmentalist” any more, even though I actually am much more conscientious about my consumption and waste footprints than I have ever been- including a time when I probably would have called myself an environmentalist.

    The success of environmentalism has had the effect of it becoming mainstream to the point of invisibility.

    Attitudes towards littering, wetlands conservation, governmental regulation of pollutants, etc. have simply become a part of American life in many places.

    Even though a large majority of Americans favor the government regulating greenhouse gas pollution, I don’t think most or maybe even many of them would label themselves “environmentalists”. Does it matter whether they do or don’t?

  • Vinny Burgoo

    Ah, Greenland!

    (I’ve never understood that. Did it come from a municipal ad campaign or something?)

  • BBD

    It was covered in palm trees during the MWP :-)

    Or so one legend has it. Another claims it was – as you suspect – lying PR spin by some chap called Eric The Red. Doubtless not a good Republican.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    please, for the love of god keith, if you’re going to point out that environmentalism is a political force in parts of europe but not in north america, at least demonstrate a little intellectual curiosity for your readers by pondering why this might be so. i realize that political science is more dave roberts bailey-wick than yours but still…

  • NewYorkJ

    Good reminder, TB (#3).  I had already forgotten about Judge’s Goode Family flop.  It failed after being moved to Comedy Central too.  I mostly like his work, but I don’t think there’s a lot of sustained widespread desire to see the mocking of caricatures of those who are trying to do some good.

    The theme seems to be cynicism.  In the Grist commentary, while calling for more optimistic framing (green jobs), Lisa cynically seems to not want to be labelled an environmentalist in part because she believes environmentalists are associated with those who think legislative action is possible.  She’s disenfranchised, believing little to nothing has or will ever be done and there’s no point in trying.  It’s along the lines of what deniers and the Breakthrough crowd wants her to think.  Maybe she’s just not looking in the right places.

  • willard

    Even worse are enviro-activists..

    Unless the term denotes an oxymoron, of course.

  • Tom Scharf

    My daughter just walked in here while I had screen shot of the South Park episode up with the hybrid car, and she said “..goooood for youuuuu…..”.  You have to see the episode to understand the joke.

    This self parody that is American environmentalism is a skeptic’s best friend.  So politically correct that it is incapable of introspection, and largely unable to perform critical analysis of itself  (KK excepted) because of the fear of hurting someone’s feelings.  

    Yet they are bipolar and capable of extreme viciousness when speculating on the motivations of the people on the other side of the argument.  

    A recent article KK linked to also stated that even young people who were largely sympathetic to the environmental causes, refused to self identify as an environmentalist.  You have to ask yourself, why?  Watching the clip from Portlandia gives a lot of insight into the answer to that question.  I’ve seen a few other episodes of Portlandia, and although a bit uneven, it has some hilarious scenes.

    Does any parent really want their child to grow up to be an “environmentalist”?  Not likely.  The word environmentalist has become synonymous with really angry self righteous hypocritical unemployed new wave hippy, spewing venom about the evils of consumerism from their Apple iPhone and Mac laptop.

    Would I mind if my daughters become a scientist that investigates and researches environmental issues?  Not at all.  This subtle distinction speaks volumes.  I’m not sure at what point “environmentalists” became humorless unlikable people, but the stereotype has become pervasive in US culture.

    Teaching is a noble profession, and teachers enjoy a public that respects and honors them (just not enough to pay them well).  Environmentalists should enjoy the same thing.  It ought to be seen as a noble profession.  What went wrong?

  • Matt Skaggs

    Derision aimed at those that are consciously trying to move closer to sustainability reflects a character flaw in the author, not the target.  And that flaw is, of course, hubris.  The sad fact is that this series of hit pieces on environmentalism is entirely devoid of intellectual content until someone can meaningfully define a “pro-growth environmentalist.”  So Keith, have you discovered that more folks are reading and commenting on your stuff now that you are experimenting with vacuous hit pieces devoid of any real content?

  • Eli Rabett

    It’s always been the program here.

  • Jarmo

    In Europe the Greens have gone mainstream. They have worked out a social and economic agenda in addition to environmentalism. To a degree they have managed to unite all the various factions that are potential voters. They carefully try to position themselves to the middle instead of left. That means compromises and many supporters have accused them of selling out. 

    I think the biggest reason for their success is that most countries have always coalition governments and there are loads of parties that are more left-wing.

  • Windy

    The Portlandia video clip is a hoot all right and almost as funny as the people upset with KK for writing about it. :-)

  • Jeff

    Keith,Will you be writing about Steve McIntyre’s conclusion to the Yamal case? We know the Times won’t be.

  • BBD


    Contrarians aside, who cares about the Mannean hockey stick these day? Seriously?

    Try and debunk these.

  • MarkB

    Boston is full of them. They want to put up roadblocks at the city line and force commuters on to public transportation at the end of a gun barrel. That gun wouldn’t fire lead bullets of course – they’d have to be eco-friendly slugs.

  • willard

    Those pesky enviro-activists:

    Shake. Fold.

    If that does not make you smile, that’s because you live in Greenlandia.

  • laursaurus

    I saw the title of this post and figured it was some new enviro-political or climate scientist industry term for Greenland. Climate change hot location. Mentioned in one of Al Gore’s lines from the AIT script.
    Of course not!
    The clip was funny, BTW. Usually these types are vegan, no? Or do they represent trendy wanna-be neo hippies?
    The emotional-well being of the chicken irony might be going over my head.
    Now I get it! The reality that little Colin was slaughtered at a young age never occurs to them.
    Could they be eating at a restaurant cashing in on the trend. Maybe a “chain” OMG!!! Owned by PepsiCo. I worked @Pizza Hut when I was in college. PepsiCo owns PH, Taco Bell, and KFC.

  • laursaurus

    I love how balanced you’ve been lately Keith. The greenies never notice the posts about climate skeptic blogs throwing RPJr under the bus, the HI billboards, the skeptic echo chamber, etc.

    @Matt S, Keith calls him like he sees them. The criticism of climate skeptics didn’t meet the definition of “hit pieces?” They were much more directly-worded in the titles.

    If the stereo-type caricature doesn’t describe your viewpoint, then why feel insulted? Don’t take yourself so damn seriously! Lighten up! Get a sense of humor, for goodness sake.

  • laursaurus

    I thought Eli was on moderation.
    Apparently Keith isn’t so corrupted by hubris that he censors comments that are devoid of intellectual content, inciting of derision, and vacuous attacks on his moral character.
    @11 Explain what “consciously trying to move closer to sustainability” looks like. Even better, define “sustainability”.

  • laursaurus

    Ugh! Typos!!!
    English is my first and only language, believe it or not!
    Can I whine about the lack of “preview” option for the combox?…

  • laursaurus

    Those pretty pictures look like hockey sticks to me :D.

  • Vinny Burgoo

    Recent communications from Greenlandia:

    (The Ecologist is the billionaire’s guide to green living. Global Cool – a state-funded enterprise, so average salaries are only about £55k pa – aims a bit lower but sends the same message: green consumerism is where it’s at.)

  • Steven Sullivan

    Far be it from me to rain on another installment of KK’s ‘environmentalists, they’re the worst’ parade   but I think the real (and not uncommon) lesson of ‘Portlandia’ is that the ‘left’ in the USA is willing to very publicly satirize its foibles, including self-seriousness. Which is a healthy thing. Compare and contrast with the ‘right’.

    (Or, maybe I’m wrong and when she’s old Carrie Brownstein will come out as having been a secret conservative all along. But I kind of doubt it.)

  • harrywr2

    Why do many environmentalists trust science when it comes to climate change but not when it comes to genetic engineering?

    Genetic Engineering, Spewing Lot’s of Anything(If we were spewing pure O2 we would probably raise our fire risk) into the environment and nuclear power all have the characteristic of having the possibility of substantial but difficult to quantify ‘unintended consequences’.

    In standard ‘risk psychology’ many of us tend to evaluate ‘unknown’, ‘difficult to quantify’ and ‘low frequency risks’ at substantially higher levels then they rationally deserve.

    I.E. Flying is safer then driving but many of us will chose to drive rather then ‘risk it’ by taking the plane.

    The risks associated with a nuclear power accident, or a genetically engineered crop going horribly wrong or climate change are difficult to quantify at a numerical level and even more difficult to quantify at an emotional level.

    From a ‘fear of the unknown’ standpoint being against nuclear power, genetically engineered crops and believing in CAGW appear to me to be consistent.

  • harrywr2

    #7,if you’re going to point out that environmentalism is a political force
    in parts of europe but not in north america, at least demonstrate a
    little intellectual curiosity for your readers by pondering why this
    might be so.
    Western Europe imports a significant portion of it’s coal, oil, natural gas and food. There is nothing better in the world then to be a ‘free trade’ advocate with all of your indigenous industries protected by ‘environmental’ regulation and the ‘moral justification’ to tax imports but demand that others not tax your exports.It is quite easy to justify European Climate policy on the grounds of ‘energy security’ alone, then add in a bit of ‘protectionist’ sentiment then it gets downright attractive to conservatives and liberals alike. It’s much more difficult North America as we have an abundance of coal and gas.


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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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