Gradually Green

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From an early age I was an earth crusader. I use that term somewhat tongue in cheek, because  I didn't really know what an earth crusader was, but that I knew the earth needed saving and I was the ten year old for the job. I remember I received a “Save-the-Earth” kit in grammar school, from some well-meaning organization. If only they knew the amount of anxiety it caused in my young mind, the ozone was being depleted? The rain forests were being destroyed? Although these were far away ideas, if not faraway places, I did at least understand that we were all interconnected and had the vague sense that it was one of those “cut off your nose to spite your face:" scenarios. That is we were really just hurting ourselves through environmental degradation, though those notions weren’t fully formed yet either.

If only I had held onto the blue and green pieces of card stock that outlined exactly how I could make a difference, I would be better able to pinpoint exactly what it was I was trying to do. I remember reusing ordinary trash like a milk carton and making a bird feeder. It hung, pitifully from the porch, too light weight and unwieldy for a bird to successfully land on. I was directed to order a mini pine tree to help repopulate the rapidly depleting resource. It arrived, but died before it had a chance. Likely some of the other list items would still be relevant: don’t be a litter bug, make sure you snip the plastic that holds six packs of cans together, and save the whales, just to name a few more.

Thinking about what I remember of these ideas now, especially with reference to my children, they seem quaint or in the case of the whales, which I desperately wanted to save, vague. All the same I felt deeply empowered by my Save-the-Earth kit and truly believed I could make a difference. That belief has stuck with me many years later and I believe each one of us has the responsibility to do our part to make a difference.

Don’t be a litter bug, simple, done. I've passed this on to my children who ask while taking a walk, with a tone of surprise, “Mom, who would throw their trash on the street?” I’d like to tell them perhaps it fell out of someone’s car or blew away from a picnic, but I’m not so sure. I've witnessed the blatant tossing of a beer can out of a truck window and cigarette butts that spark off the pavement at night. Wrong on a few accounts that I can think of. Is there a deficit of roadside and community trash cans my kids wondered? Do people really not care what the street leading to their home looks like? Should I don a uniform and act as the pick-up-your-trash police?

Snipping the plastic-thingy that holds six packs together? Again with reference to my children they have no idea what a six pack is, though I was familiar with them as a child, I learned I didn't need scissors to snap the offending plastic, but could use the might of my arms to stretch the plastic thin until it broke. But into this category falls all manner of roundish, plastic-elastic items that are routinely indicted as the cause of marine life demise, what do we do with those?

And as for the whales, they surely still need saving, perhaps now more than ever what with oil spills, oceanic garbage patches, and refuse from the recent devastating tsunami in coastal Japan polluting the water. And all those plastic thingies. But saving the whales still feels elusive. Computers weren't a household reality when I first learned the whales needed me. With the strokes of a few keys I could surely find myriad websites explaining why the whales need saving and how to…with a credit card donation.  

None of this is a criticism, but I’m not sure how far I've come since the little “earth crusader” reared her determined head. I've adopted the modern “Save the Earth” edicts-- Cloth shopping bags, reusable water bottles, recycling, composting, CFLs…surely by now we've all had a look at a poster, a card, an email or some other list enumerating the top ten or best fifty ways we can help save the earth. But it just doesn’t seem like enough.

As a little girl I felt a mixture of unwavering belief that I could save the earth and yet that child-like helplessness that my lemonade stand to raise money for the whales wasn’t quite going to do it. Maybe I’d save one-eightieth of one whale. The kid in me wants the earth saved now…before it is too late, but me, the adult, knows that change is a process and aside from the beer can throwing truck driver, many of us are in fact doing our part, a part of a much larger and extremely complicated whole.

Still there are so many intricacies and areas of our lives where if we took a good look we could be still greener. Yet there is the reality that we are all enmeshed in lives that have become dependent on the modern conveniences that are implicated in playing a large part in environmental destruction: from cars and planes to factory meat and pesticides, from fossil fuels to toxins in the products we use in our homes, it almost seems insurmountable. It is so much bigger than the little girl clutching tightly to her Save-the-Earth kit could ever have imagined and yet…And yet each one of us is intimately involved in the process of protecting our resources, the lives of our children and all of those to come.   

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For myself, I propose a process of becoming gradually green, greener. Each day, each shopping trip, with each choice I make, I need to ask myself, what impact does it have on the environment? Is this really the best I can do? The little-girl grown-up realizes it is still up to me to educate myself and take a proactive role in protecting the environment, but also that it a gradual process one that although I cannot save the earth all on my own, I can do my part, bit by bit, step by step, choice by choice.

The next time my kids and I took a walk we grabbed gloves, a bag and picked up trash we saw along the road side, plastic thingies, cigarette butts and cans. A little way ahead, my daughter called out, “Mom, what’s this?” She waved a clear plastic six pack ring. I called back to her, “I know just what to do with that.” It may not be directly saving the whales, but it is a start. 

What do you do to keep calm and save the earth? Please share!
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