I am disappointed with myself…
Since school started, I have fallen off the wagon in the following ways:
1. Commuting by bike less frequently
2. Eating/ordering more meat
3. Buying more single-use, disposable goods
4. Using the car for more single-purpose trips
5. Being generally less mindful of my energy/resources consumption and/or designating it as a lower priority in my life
Now, I realize that, in the overall scheme of things, my eating one more
cheeseburger or taking an extra 4-mile drive (or even my NOT doing these things) really doesn’t count for much at all. The reason I even bother announcing my minor failures to the world in the form of this blog post is because, as an individual with relatively paltry wealth, fame, and clout of any sort, living my life according to my beliefs is about the only difference I can make, tiny or otherwise.
Another reason I am writing about this is that I think it may offer an interesting insight into why people in general don’t end up performing environmentally-friendly deeds, despite wanting to or feeling that there is a necessity for them. Stress brought on by everyday activities and a lack of time seem to be my triggers for neglecting to reduce/reluctantly accepting my rather large carbon/water/whatever footprint. And I have relatively insignificant concerns compared to most people: I really only need to take care of myself and a very low-maintenance cat, I have a pretty undemanding job, I have some debt but only from school, etc. When people’s minds are preoccupied by much bigger issues such as the mortgage on their home and 4 mouths to feed, it is clear and, honestly, reasonable that the environment necessarily takes a backseat.
Which brings me to my bigger point that environmentalism HAS TO be practical in application and rhetoric, if it is to become a mainstream and widespread effort. Maintaining or enhancing the quality of the average citizen’s life must be a central tenet of the promotion of environmental protection. We cannot forget that everyone needs a job, home, and the ability to support their family even as we raise our voices against further drilling for oil or Obama’s abrupt reversal of ozone standards. Screaming at the top of our lungs about saving wolves/otters/whales/spotted owls while failing to mention why the average folk should care will only marginalize the (very worthwhile) environmentalist cause (and I’m speaking as someone who wants to save the whales more than most). We will forever be seen as idealistic green loonies if we don’t successfully connect the dots between “eco-friendly” and “happiness/health/robust economy/less crazy climate conditions” for the very audience we are trying to persuade.
Two things that every environmentalist (myself included) must achieve are: 1)become better educated about environmental regulations at different levels of government and their connections to the economy and 2)get away from conspiracy theorizing about how evil and greedy the Other Side is. We have to accept that the fate of the green movement is tied to the health of the economy/people’s bank accounts. It is unfair to expect the average citizen to care about recycling or eating organic when he is worried about his next paycheck.
It is also important to note that I have rarely met environmental professionals (i.e. the people who actually work in water quality control or air pollution or transportation planning or environmental research) who are radical rant-and-ravers. I doubt that it’s because they don’t care. Rather, I believe they are the first to realize: 1) the complicated web of people/businesses/interests involved in environmental policy-making and enforcement means that progress is necessarily incremental and 2) the complexity and confusing state of cause-and-effect in the health of the environment. For example, car exhaust is widely known to contribute to smog formation in LA. A large component of smog is ozone. BUT nitric oxide from tailpipe emissions actually interacts with ozone to break it down! Therefore, the downtown area, where traffic is notoriously gnarly, actually has little ozone!
My point is that simplifying the relationship between policy/public support/human behavior and the green movement – most obviously demonizing the opposition – is unproductive (and, yes, this here post is simplifying the situation). Rick Perry, for one, is an exasperating human being to me, but he represents a population whose values and concerns are in fact valid and stem from some coping mechanism they developed to survive in our society (that I will maybe never understand). The only way to not just defeat but convert these people is to convince them that supporting environmentalism benefits themselves.