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Ride off into the sunset 

Don't you wish life was more like old Westerns? I do. Not the getting shot in the back and firing your gun into the air before falling off of a big rock part. Or the sounds out in the dark beyond the reach of the campfire part. And I wasn't too keen on the flaming arrows flying into a circle of wagons part. Also, it probably smelled really bad: no showers, no deodorant, you get the picture.

The part I'm talking about is how the bad guys always wore black hats and the good guys always wore white ones. It was that easy. Cut and dried. Everybody knew where everybody else stood, at least until the six-guns started blazing. After the smoke cleared, everybody knew where everybody else had fallen or remained standing, and you can bet your boots that the black hats were the ones on the ground, bleeding into the street. The white hats were the guys who rode off into the sunset while the music swelled and the screen dimmed. What a life.

These days, the line between good and bad, black and white isn't so obvious. Sure, you could start shooting at the people you think are bad, but you're probably going to find out that a lot of them not all of them, but a lot of them didn't deserve to get shot in the first place. That's not something you'd like to realize after you've got a dozen bodies lined up for pine boxes. People might raise their eyebrows at you for that.

Take Ernie Dalidio. If he wore a black hat, everybody would know not to vote for his crazy project right off the bat. Or, if he wore a white one, it'd be just the opposite. Easy. Instead, he's walking around with this green hat on, saying he's the next best thing to God, building his own Garden of Eden on the Central Coast, and you're free to dwell there as long as you don't eat from Tree of the Knowledge of What's Truly in the Initiative and What Isn't.

The problem is that green's a funny color. It's certainly not black or white. Since someone went and plastered Ernie's smiling mug and his claims of how easy it is to be green all over New Times last week, the staff's been peppered with comments about how decidedly un-green Ernie's project is. "Organic?" they say. "Bah! Butterflies? Pah! Green? Ha!" Then they run out of dramatic rhymes and leave. I'm inclined to agree with them especially about the leaving part except I'm having a hard time finding a definition for what "green" really means.

Oh sure, there are lots of definitions and standards out there, but they all seem to be voluntary, like SLO Green Build's big list of green building practices. Sure, specific green practices are backed up by groups like the EPA, but that same group calls green building "a new field gaining momentum" and uses fancy words like "environmentally preferable."

I'm not making my point as well as I'd like to. I could probably do it in a language with more symbol-based characters, like Mandarin or something, but I'm stuck in English, so I'll give it another go.

What's the penalty for calling yourself green if you're not really green? Sure, the true green supporters out there are going to scoff and roll their eyes and maybe scream a little, but is there a law that states what's green and what isn't? Can I, hypothetically which means I won't start my own green group that says you can slap the green label on whatever you want as long as you've never personally strangled a dolphin?

The U.S. Green Building Council says it wants to "promote buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable, and healthy places to live and work." Beyond that, the group's guiding principles spout vague goals like "maintain integrity" and "reconcile humanity with nature." How do you standardize that? If you only reconcile some of the dregs of humanity with a little tiny bit of nature, do you still get to wear a white hat? Or are you stuck in black until you successfully breed a pair of pandas in captivity? Neither. Read on.

The council promotes the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, which, they point out, is nationally accepted. If your project gets LEED certified, you get a plaque also, they point out, recognized nationwide. A certification even qualifies you for tax rebates and other incentives. Without a certification, I suppose, you can call yourself green all you want it's not a trademarked word, as far as I know but you don't get the tangible monetary benefits that come with the intangible touchy-feely benefits of making the world a better place.

The L.A. Times did a story on Dalidio recently, under the headline "Plan to Turn San Luis Obispo Farmland Into Green Mall to Go Before Voters." The story mentioned that definitive green-building standards and certifications exist, but also repeatedly freely used the term to describe adding environmental features to a project.

I don't claim to be an expert on this and I'm probably pissing off a lot of people right now, but I'm used to that by now not being an expert, that is. Actually, I'm used to pissing people off, too. It comes with the territory.

What also comes with the territory is the responsibility to question authority, no matter what color it is. Please, please, please, please, please don't think I'm anti-green. I'm as for responsibly and truthfully saving the environment as the next guy, as long as he's not some pave-the-rainforests nutjob.

But if that same nutjob wanted to call himself green and didn't care about a little plaque and a tax write-off, what could I do? Besides circle the wagons, I mean.

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