It can be rough keeping up.  You’ve probably heard the term, “Keeping up with the Joneses.”  Usually that phrase applies to people buying fancier cars, bigger houses, and more stuff so that they can compete with their neighbors or friends.

But I feel like those words have new meaning in Boulder, Colorado.  Trying to be ever more environmentally conscientious to keep ahead of your co-workers or neighbors.  How do you prove your worthiness in this place that thrives on an ever shrinking carbon footprint?

My friend, Heather, calls it “reverse elitism.”  An elite that seeks to one-up based on how little you can consume.  When my husband worked in Boulder several years ago, he felt guilty just admitting to his co-workers that he had driven to work that day.  The sheer audacity of using gasoline when he could have been riding a bike or running to work!

I’ve succumbed to the guilt as well.  “Ride you bike to work day” emails bring on a new wave of remorse.  Today, my co-worker today told me he pays more than half his income towards rent.  But, hey it’s totally worth it — he can walk to work!  How dare I choose to live in Nederland, where I must travel 15 miles and add greenhouse gases to the environment?

Work brought a whole new level of education on the subject.  As part of my orientation, I got to take a “class” on sustainability where I learned that frozen food boxes are not really recyclable, and that you should put post-it notes on a larger piece of paper to recycle them.  The latest news flash warned me that the paper packaging used for reams of paper is actually trash.  No, I’m not making this up.  I felt so confused by the end of my “class”, that faced with the remains of my lunch, I just threw it all in the trash can, not wanting to “recycle” incorrectly.

For a couple of years I got a reprieve when I actually got a job working in Nederland.  Yay — I shrunk my carbon footprint!  But the truth is, it really didn’t lessen my driving.  At four miles, it was just long enough that I still drove to work, but short enough, that I often came home for lunch.  See — I negated the whole idea of saving the environment.

This time of year particularly brings up moments of shame.  It’s cold and wintry, with snow and ice on many of the trails, sidewalks and roads.  Yet in the middle of a driving snowstorm after work, a person rides his bike by me while waiting at a stoplight.  Wow, his commitment to being green left me in awe.

As I left work tonight, I spotted one of those hearty cyclists getting on his bike.  I made a joke.

“I don’t think that would work for me.  I wouldn’t be able to ride up the canyon back to Nederland.”

Then I felt it.  That pang of guilt.  Not to be outdone, I followed up with another comment.

“But I’m walking down to the Transit Center to take the bus!”

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m as big a fan as anyone to combating climate change.  It just gets mentally fatiguing sometimes in this place that never stops trying to save the planet.