by Lawrence Bush
There ought to be a national speak-out about people’s experiences of awakening to environmental or Earth consciousness. The stories themselves (especially if recounted by celebrities) would help to develop a constituency for pro-Earth priorities.
Here are five small events that mark my evolution as an Earth-aware human being of the non-celebrity variety.
THE FIRST EARTH DAY, 1970: I walked the streets of downtown Manhattan, which were blocked off to vehicular traffic. People in their teens and twenties (my age back then) were drawing on the streets in chalk — and I had a lovely vision of city-as-playground, a city of grass-and-sod instead of stone. I stopped littering that day, suddenly realizing how uncivilized it was simply to drop stuff from my pockets onto the sidewalk or curb for the street-sweepers to clean. (Yes, people used to do that.)
Today, when I read about how online shopping is rendering big box stores and strip malls nearly obsolete, I fantasize the restoration of those parking lots to parks, and those buildings to community centers…
MY EIGHT PLANETS: Six years ago, National Public Radio’s Marketplace ran an excellent series that traced certain consumer products from manufacture to consumption. At the Marketplace website was a quiz called “Consumer Consequences,” which enabled you to figure out how many planets it would take to sustain the earth’s population if everyone shared your consumption habits. I had been out of the city for years, and figured that my lifestyle would spill over onto at most one extra planet, since we lived rurally, had only a small house, burned wood to stay warm, didn’t shop for pleasure, turned off lights, recycled our garbage, etc.
I was horrified to learn that it would take eight and a half planets to sustain my lifestyle on a global scale — mostly because I drive a lot, without passengers, here in the country (I have to drive six miles just to reach a supermaket), as does my partner Susan, who also flies a fair amount for work; plus I drink wine from Europe and coffee from Latin America and Africa, and I eat imported fruits and vegetables, off-season, as well as some meat and fish. (“Consumer Consequences” is no longer available on the web, but you can click here to take a similar quiz; recently I scored 3.8 planets.)
I realized, too, that there is little I can do to improve my score, besides cutting down on meat, fish, and off-season veggies. There’s no public transportation or even bike paths to speak of where I live. Waste is a social, even more than individual, problem. However…
I AM GOING SOLAR: We learned this year that going solar in our sunny house no longer requires a capital investment of between ten and twenty thousand dollars. There are companies now that will put solar panels on your roof for no money down and then lease you the electricity at a lower rate than your power company. By the end of this year, the entirety of my household electrical use will be provided by twenty-five panels on my roof, and my electrical bill will be 30 percent lower. The only excuse left for homeowners is too much shade!
COFFEE AND A DONUT: After enjoying coffee and a donut at Dunkin’ Donuts last year, I looked at the table and saw: a paper bag, a piece of “wax paper” with which they’d handled the donut, a crumpled napkin, a straw, a straw cover, a plastic cup, and a plastic cup cover. All that garbage, much of which will find its way to the ocean, for my five minutes of unhealthy food. Never again, I said…
The experience got me to thinking about all of the amazingly crafted, ingenious products that are hardly used at all before they’re in the garbage/recycling stream: double-handled paper grocery bags (think of it: All those trees, all that ink and other chemicals, all that ingenuity, all that manufacturing energy, for a bag that carries stuff from grocery to car, from car to home, and that’s that); plastic bags (they store food until it’s moldy and then go out into the world to kill fish and other aquatic creatures); deli containers, condiment containers, plastic forks and knives wrapped in plastic, water cooler cups, ketchup and mustard envelopes, cardboard shipping boxes… in the name of keeping everything safe, sanitary, and tidy, how we are mucking up our only planet!!
THE CREATURES: Living in the country, as I do, you see a lot of creatures: groundhogs, herons, hawks, foxes, snakes, toads, rabbits, opossums, raccoons, even coyotes. But only in the past decade have I truly realized: They’re my neighbors. They live in and around my little acre-and-a-half of land. When I see “a” groundhog, it’s the same groundhog I saw last week — and when I see a dead groundhog on my road, it’s my neighbor, who’s been hit by a car. When I see that hawk on the electric wires, it’s the same hawk: That’s his hunting perch.
Two days ago, in the cornfield down the road, I saw a black bear. This was a stranger in the neighborhood. It was sticking its head out of the cornfield, and drew back in when it saw me. My neighbor commented: “Bear hunting season began today. They’re running around to get away.”
And I thought: Good hiding place for a bear. All that corn. Hope he stays there. And I thought: Why should men be able to shoot bears for fun? And I thought: Iraq. Gaza. Congo. Babi Yar…
Please take a few minutes to post below your own story of environmental awakening.
Lawrence Bush edits Jewish Currents and JEWDAYO.