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Words, actions speak different shades of green

Conferences focused on climate change and green goods aren't eco-perfect. But what is?

Reporters on the front lines of climate change ate locally grown food from biodegradable tableware at the annual Society of Environmental Journalists conference held at Stanford University last week .

Yet, they also boarded gas-guzzling, air-conditioned buses to tour Google's solar headquarters, green buildings in San Francisco and area ecosystems. The nonprofit Environmental Defense handed out folders about safeguarding the oceans. These came inside vinyl shoulder bags that stank of the same toxic chemicals that poison waterways. Most of some 900 attendees flew to the event in petroleum-powered planes to discuss how to report about imperiled ecosystems, from the big picture to the local level.

But don't be too hard on the journalists. Like anyone else, they (or we) are merely living on Earth in its current, carbon-gobbling state. The impracticality of being as green as green can get is just another inconvenient truth of postmodern life. And most other conventions fail even to serve up the corn-plastic forks.

To atone for air travel and other ungreen habits, you can buy endless carbon offsets. Even Burning Man partiers can pay for credits through the Cooling Man project. But rather than spewing carbon one day and planting trees and solar panels the next, why not stop polluting in the first place? Perhaps none of us should cast a stone in a glass greenhouse unless we plan to hold every professional rendezvous via videoconferencing, with all our Web sites and computers plugged into some green grid.

Instead, a flurry of eco-events this fall will invite participants from various far-flung locales to rack up their airline miles and meet in person. AlwaysOn Going Green is being held in Davis, Calif., this week, and at least three conventions related to green building happen around the country before Thanksgiving. Dwell on Design is this weekend, followed by West Coast Green. Al Gore will speak at the meeting of the American Society of Landscape Architects in October, near CNET's San Francisco headquarters. Bill Clinton will keynote Greenbuild in Chicago in November. (Absent from such rosters are politicians running for office, whose environmental platforms remain largely showy and shallow. If we truly must mend our wicked ways within a mere decade or two, then where's the green New Deal to match their rhetoric?)

There is sure to be a common message at all of these get-togethers: that the planet is in peril--but green goods and businesses can save the day! More products and services, such as hybrid taxis, are getting greener, although it takes time for them to become widespread. But the overwhelming message at the SEJ conference was clear that in these arctic ice cap-melting days, we possibly can't afford the time for glacial change--and the meaning of that phrase itself has quickened.