Wednesday, July 23, 2008

How I Became An Environmentalist

I'd always cared about the environment ... sort of ... in theory. I recycled, when I could. I even had a couple reusable bags. Sometimes I ate organic when it was not too expensive. After seeing An Inconvenient Truth, I immediately went home and bought some carbon offsets. And then had nightmares for a week.

But ... I didn't really do anything more than that, because frankly, what could I do? Al Gore was a Vice President for pete's sake, and he was reduced to power point presentations. How was it possible that anything I did could have an effect?

So ... I ignored climate change, basically. I mean, rationally, I believed it was happening, but basically yes, I was in denial. Because to contemplate something like that without feeling like I could do anything about it? It was just too horrifying to contemplate.

And then one day, I was lying on my futon watching The Colbert Report, when everything shifted. Evan Osnos was talking about cashmere goats, and how they were ruining China's land with their hooves. Stephen Colbert was suggesting that the goats should maybe wear cashmere booties.

And I was sitting there thinking idly, "Wow it's too bad about China's land. But man, it would be sad to give up cashmere. Except, I kinda already have a lot of cashmere. Hmmmm. Hey, I know! Maybe I won't buy any more cashmere since I already have so much. Or better yet, maybe I just won't buy anything new at all!!"

I know, I know, what you are going to say. Arduous, your inner thoughts are eloquent! It's true. My inner thoughts could fill a really .... boring quote book. That no one would read. Sorry, I do wish my aha! moment was a little more spectacular. Instead it involved a cable comedy show and later on a toilet seat cover Stephen claimed was made of cashmere. But I guess it would be fitting that as an environmentalist who tries not to take herself too seriously, I would find my "call to action" in such a way.

Anyway, that's my story. What's yours?


Burbanmom said...

Three email links from my sister in spring of 2007:

World's Most Polluted River

Albatross Necropsy

No Impact Man

The first two made me almost puke. The last gave me hope.

hmd said...

Boring? I like that story - in fact, I think Colbert would like that story too :)

Unknown said...

Basically our family started learning about sustainability last year when the economy started to look bad. Prices of everything were going up, but our wages stayed the same. Little by little we are making the leap into sustainablity, but it's been a slow process. But I guess slow is better than doing nothing at all!

ib mommy said...

A guy in one of my landscape classes once said "I know two things about plants, they're either green or brown".

Sometimes that's how I feel about environmentalism.

We always recycled, organic gardened and composted. When my oldest started working on her Girl Scout Gold Award she decided to put together a web site with information geared toward younger girls about the way their actions have an impact of where we live. We started researching and it really caused us to "think" about the way we were living.

My duh moment came when I heard someone say "There is no such place as away".

Anonymous said...

I realized that it was an avenue for pursuing simple living. I've always thought that we've craved luxuries, getting our wants and our needs confused. Personally, I found An Inconvenient Truth to be designed to appeal strongly to the emotions: every time Gore presented some science, he followed it with an emotional appeal story that did not seem strongly related. If that criticism is harsh, do know that I was mandated to watch the movie 4 times as a high school teacher. It was considered "required" viewing for all of my 9th graders. I think there are better resources for teaching environmental stewardship.

pink dogwood said...

I think the awareness slowly crept in as I read more blogs such as yours, green beans, NIM, crunchy chicken. It is hard to go green cold turkey, but it is easy to incorporate few things every few weeks. I think my first step was to stop using plastic bags.

My plan is to live simpler and greener life so that it becomes the norm for my kids and it should perpetuate from there on. Of course, I have a long way to go, but slowly but surely I am getting there.

knutty knitter said...

The green stuff was built in -family stuff although I've taken it further.

The blog thing - that was a Digg article on No Impact Man. I found most of you through him and the rest from all those links I followed.

viv in nz

Katy said...

Your "Ah!" moment is better than mine. If I had one I don't remember it.

I saw inconvient truth and rolled my eyes. I think so much of the enviromental movement is preachy and judgemental. I've been doing little things here an there to "do my part", but the message seemed to be that unless you are willing to live naked in the woods and eat berries you are wasiting your time.

Then one day (I don't remember how) I stumbled on NIM's blog. I started reading. Which got me thinking. Maybe people can do this stuff. Maybe I can live in the city and function in society and still have an impact. Maybe the little things do matter.

So I have moved from there, changing things slowly. Getting inspiration from NIM, you, Chrunchy and others. There is still a lot more that I could do, but I am making head way and learning more as I go.

Anonymous said...

It was a gradual evolution for me. I was lucky to always have friends & acquaintances who were just one step more hardcore than me, so I gradually became crunchier and crunchier.

But after my son was born, we decided to try to sell our house. Our roomates moved out and we started fixing up the place. I was tired and isolated and broke, and I started backsliding. Drove a lot, bought non-organic food, couldn't do any political work because every group was *so* baby-unfriendly.

THEN I went back to work full time, which made things even worse - last fall I didn't even do any canning, and my garden was (is still) pitiful. I'm not going to even talk about the frozen meals from Costco.

The blogosphere has really helped me get back on track, challenge myself (I had known people who carried pee rags around, but never thought about adults wiping their butts with cloth, f'rinstance) and feel connected even though I'm (again, still) in this weird space between the liberals & the radicals, too weird for the Skippies but too normal for the anarchists & hippies.

Also, my son is a toddler & I can take him some places now. Though I am still uncomfortable in the alternaworld and infuriated to learn that the mainstream orgs don't offer anything like childcare or mom-friendly volunteering opportunities.

Green Bean said...

I helped my children celebrate Earth Day and realized that (1) we were heading in a really bad place, (2) nothing to stop it had been done in decades, since I was an environmentally aware high schooler and (3) someone better do something now or my kids wouldn't have a very nice place to call home when they grew up. I realized that someone was me.

Anonymous said...

I've been a bit of a "hippie chick" since high school, so some aspects of environmentalism (recycling, using public transit, etc) have been ingrained for a long time.

More recently, though, I just had some moment where I realized that so many things are taken for granted, from chemicals in "beauty" products that get absorbed into our bodies to throw-away culture. I started making little changes -- no SLS in cleansers, using mugs at work instead of bottles or paper cups, etc -- mostly because I didn't feel good about the way I was living or my own personal environment. I often feel like for each thing that I do, there are 10 others I *should* be doing ... But considering how much more has become second nature, I think these small steps are the only way forward.

Jennie said...

I think propaganda in elementary school had a big impression on me. We had assemblies on recycling and reducing water use and not smoking. I also remember that Exxon had a big oil spill and I thought, Hey, I could be one of those people who go clean that up. This and going to hippy Santa Cruz every summer.

Sam said...

I didn't have any ah-ha moment like you. But before I moved to the U.S. I was all rah-rah about how fantastic the U.S would be and then I came here and the food tasted so crappy that I often had um...toilet problems. In fact that is still a very good indicator for me on whether something I ate was organic or not - whether there is a constipation factor. Plus there is my record of 6 or 7 lifetime food poisoning episodes (0 for Indian roadside eateries or for that matter anywhere in India). The water is also crappy.

I became aware of plastic usage after looking at that picture of that dead albatross (which might be doctored), but other readings have confirmed how excessive plastic consumption isn't so hot.

And then I just hate cars. I've grown to hate them even more in the U.S. because of the status a automobile holds and how non-auto owners are treated. I hate buses too, but I hate cars even more.

I guess this is more of a bash usa post than anything, but I still don't consider myself to be an environmentalist really. I think of myself as someone who wants good food all the time and wants to walk without a giant racket with horns blaring on the roads.

Sam said...

academic's post reminded me that the boards were very instrumental in shaping my views. But the food took a stand first. Down with crappy food!

lauren said...

Like many commenters, I had always had an environmental streak that was ingrained early on, but did not extend much further than a love of recycling and a hatred of litter.

Then I lived in south Texas for three years and committed numerous environmental sins that I still feel bad for, and should. Plastic bags ALL the TIME (and thrown away), a plastic water bottle everyday (!),no walking/biking to errands and ZERO recycling.

All of these habits I built were a direct result of the culture of that region. The grocery store didn't offer paper bags, let alone reusable ones, and without curbside recycling, you had to drive 30 minutes to a center that didn't take very much. I didn't think twice about driving everywhere in the muggy 90+ degree weather and creating a lot of waste.

Then I moved to Berkeley, on the opposite end of the spectrum, and I realized how much more I should be doing.I read the NYT article about NIM and thought the idea of low impact living was cool, but his lifestyle seemed too extreme. It wasn't until February that I read NYT article about "green moms" that I found links to blogs.

Unique commenter names like arduous, fake plastic fish, etc. led me to my now-daily reading.


Going Crunchy said...

I lived much lighter as a single peron, just by nature! I was a veggie, drove a two seater, lived in a small cabin. Somehow years later "An Inconvenient Truth" woke me up to the fact that my now suburban lifestyle with two kids, big house, mini-van, poor diet choices was causing my body harm, my world damage and not teaching my kids much about respect for the Earth.

Add on the need to be frugal to live a better life in the long run, and being a librarian and exposed to all the research and kapow- - - major life changes.

Right after that I saw "Altered Oceans" and began even more research. One door opened another, opened another, opened another.

I'm still walking through the doors. Shannon

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

I didn't have an "aha!" moment really - maybe if I had I'd be more hard core like you guys! Instead I was always aware of the environment - I watched all the nature documentaries I could when I was a kid / teenager (I LOVE David Attenborough) and was a member of Greenpeace and all that. I've never owned a car, always recycled whenever possible etc. I think maybe I do need a short sharp shock to take me to the next level of green though. This blog really helps!

Anonymous said...

I, like others who have commented, grew up somewhat green. At least I loved the outdoors and had a love for nature. But the real change in my lifestyle only came a few months ago when I miscarried at 8 weeks. I started researching the causes of miscarriage and I looked at the rates of miscarriage in other countries. I discovered that, at least for me, I had to reduce the amount of toxins that we were exposed to - and that naturally led to other positive changes.

The first thing I did was go through all of my cabinets and get rid of ANYTHING that contained hydrogenated oils (we did give these to other people but it was hard to pass off my unwanted toxic food to others). We now eat organic (and local when possible though not all local food is organic), have reduced our buying, make some of our own cleaning and personal care products and carefully scrutinize the ingredients as well as the location of all of our purchases.

We are growing our first garden and have started getting things together to preserve our food for the winter. We have tp available but routinely use cloth wipes. Basically, we have reduced everything, reuse where possible, and recycle. When we do buy things we look carefully at the packaging to make sure it can be recycled and we buy in bulk whenever we can.

These are dramatic changes for us but we know that there is so much more that we can do! Everything affects our environment and I want to keep it as free of waste and toxins as I can.

Anonymous said...

I was a jaded arm-chair environmentalist forever. Yeah, I gave money to various organizations and signed regular pledges. Other than that, I didn't do much.

But "Altered Ocean" on LA Times broke my heart. I knew if I did not personally do something, then I would be personally responsible for the mass destruction of the ocean and the land.

BTW, I still re-read Altered Ocean now and then. And it still stirs so much inside.

Kori~Q~ said...

My wake up call came in May. I was diagnosed with an auto-immune condition that is causing my antibodies to attack my joints. My rheumatologist stressed to me on my very first visit that exposure to toxins in my environment could very well be what caused (or at least aggravates) my condition. So, I had to clean it up or face being on some fairly scary medication for the rest of my life, no chance at all of coming off of it. The choice was easy - being green is healthier for me, my family and my planet... and if it gets me off the meds, that's most definitely a bonus!

I will say, I'm still in the learning phase, starting with baby steps. Switching to homemade cleaning products was step one for me - that was the most easily-identifiable toxin-filled glop in my house. Switching to all organic and as much locally-grown food as possible was my next step. Upping our recycling, composting, gardening, all of that came next. Getting the family on board with not buying stuff, in general, and switching to non-disposables, specifically, is still a work in progress. String together enough baby steps and eventually I'll get to where I want to be.

Anonymous said...

After two years of teaching Biology, I heard my school needed someone to teach AP Environmental Science. I volunteered, and it was a learning curve throughout that first year teaching it. The more I taught, about population demographics, fossil fuels, air, water, and soil, ecosystems, pollution... It just hit me. I spent the next three years making changes, telling my students about these changes, and here I am now, going back for a second M.S. in Environmental Education, and I'll spend my sixth year teaching AP Environmental Science, college-bound environmental science, and botany. I love it and I love that I get to share my passion with a captive audience... and see my students make changes, too.

Joyce said...

I think for me, it was when I was a kid and we were on vacation in Colorado. We had been enjoying the spectacular scenery, picinicking, wading in ice-cold creeks, and then one day we rounded a corner and saw a whole valley full of nasty slag from a molibdinum mine. My dad stopped the car, and without saying anything, got out and stood with his hands on his hips, with the most angry look on his face I ever saw(he was a very even-tempered man). When he got back in the car, he just said "How could anyone let that happen!" I was seven, but I think that's when I figured it out. We can't do that to our planet.

Anonymous said...

it looks like a lot of people have been inspired by blogs. that's pretty awesome...

i guess i'd say it was when i was 17 and my doctor prescribed me prozac. being the nerd that i was, i went straight to the bookstore and picked up a book on prozac and other sri's and read as much as i could about it. then i threw out my prescription. that was pretty much around the time that i developed a loathing for pharmaceuticals of all kinds, started learning about the value of organics, natural healthcare, homeopathics, etc... i was already interested in socialism and anarchism from the age of 15, so a lot of these ideas about community, self-sufficiency and economic independece seemed like the way to go. all of this wove together over the past several years with all of the new things i've learned and incorporated into my life, and here i am now...

ruchi said...

Wow it looks like everyone came from many varying paths!

Burbs, thanks for the links. Seen the last one (clearly) but not the other two. Will have to check it out.

Heather, ha ha! You're right, Colbert would probably be kinda impressed.

Bobbi, interesting. I think there's a huge connection with money and the environment. Since I've started practicing personal environmentalism, I've saved SO much money. And yes, slow is always better than nothing at all!!

Ib Mommy, I like that quote. Cool!

Academic, I see your point, but I'm glad kids are seeing anything related to the environment at all!! But I couldn't have watched that movie 4 times. Once was enough!!

Pink Dogwood, yup, the plastic bag step is a big first step for so many people! Incorporating a few things every few weeks makes transitioning nice and easy.

Viv, wow! I'm always impressed with people who have always lived a pretty "green" life. :)

Katy, NIM was an important influence on me as well. I guess he still is, actually!! Crunchy too. And many others.

Rosa, good point. If we want all hands on deck, we HAVE to get moms involved. I hope we see orgs become more mom-friendly soon!

GB, isn't it cool when we take ownership for the problems of the world? I mean, okay, sometimes it sucks to lose sleep over problems you have almost no control over, but on the other hand, you can also feel like you are DOING something.

Emily, I hear you. Cindy W has a saying that she would rather 90% of people reduce 10% than get 10% of people to reduce 90%. Think of the difference we could make if everyone reduced their carbon footprint by 10%.

Jennie, yeah I was into the propaganda as well. But as I got older I kinda forgot about all that good stuff I learnt in school. Booo.

ruchi said...

Beany, I am with you about the crappy food! A few months ago I had some Bagel Bites for the first time in months. They tasted good for about five seconds and then I was sick the rest of the day!

Lauren, you're welcome!! And, I can't begin to count the number of eco-sins I've committed. It's embarassing.

Shan, me too. Still walking through doors, still learning new stuff.

CAE, heh, I honestly think you're about as hard core as I am. :) Maybe more. Never owned a car! That's hard core!!

Bugs and Brooms, so sorry to hear about your miscarriage. I'm glad something positive came from it though.

Cindy, I know that's a very powerful article. Amazing the impact one article can have, huh?

Kori, yup! You can't do everything at once, but if you keep moving forward, eventually you'll be where you need to be!!

Abbie, wow, I wish they had offered AP Environmental Science when I was in high school! That sounds so neat!!

Joyce, what an eye-opener that must have been. Ugh.

Kimberly, wow sounds like you were a pretty smart teen! That's so cool!

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

It helps if you've always lived in cities with good public transport, and hate driving...

EcoGeoFemme said...

I remember my mom watching videos about voluntary simplicity when I was a kid (she's interested in that sort of thing more for the social justice group at her church than environmentalism) and they made sense to me, then I was in the an earth club in high school that focused almost entirely on energy. Those, plus all sorts of other stuff like earth day, the Alaska oil spill, etc, got me into it.

Tina Cardone said...

My college roommate showed me an article about some crazy guy going without toilet paper (i.e. Colin). I read his blog daily from that point forward, and found a lot of amazing people through him. Even though I had been aware of and interested in conservation before then, the blog world really has been my motivation and community. Thanks!

ruchi said...

CAE, yeah I actually hated to drive too, but when I moved to LA it was either learn to enjoy it or be miserable every day (I did a LOT of driving in the auditioning/tutoring for the SAT phase of my life.) So I learned to enjoy driving.

EGF, yeah I remember what a big deal that oil spill was. It made a huge imprint on me too at the time.

Crstn85, haha, it's amazing how much the not using toilet paper really grabs people, huh. :)

maryann said...

What got me started? GMO foods, plain and simple. I was working a job where I had way toooo much down time and spent a lot of it on the internet. Don't know what tripped it off but I started looking at GMO foods and what the corporate food giants do, it really disgusted me.
Beyond that, I really hated that job in corporate cube farm land and wanted to downgrade. To do so I needed to figure out how we could live comfortably on less, which actually isn't that hard to do.
Lastly, I just hate waste and I really hate disposable. Why am I going to pay for something to throw it in the garbage later? Doesn't make sense to me.
As you can tell, none of these reasons are 'save the planet' related but they all have the same results of lightening my footprint.

Anonymous said...

Too funny! I like that your aha! moment was so simple. Like turning on a light.

Don't have time to write mine here. But I actually already wrote about it on my blog, if you're interested:


Melissa said...

for me, it was travelling to India earlier this year and seeing how happily so many people live with so little stuff. Of course, less stuff = less environmental impact, and that sort of got the whole ball rolling. I got back and really felt burdened by the consumerism in this country and felt the need to lighten my impact.

Anonymous said...

My breaking point was when my car broke down. It was a late model car costing just over 30,000, that got over 30 mpg on the highway.

The dealership gave me a tiny little Mitsubishi lancer that was so slow that it was honestly dangerous to merge onto the highway with.

My car broke down AGAIN two weeks later. I threw a fit and demanded a car of similar status to my own. They gave me more than I bargained for. I ended up in a brand new GMC Yukon XL.

The Yukon got like 12 miles to the gallon.

By the end of the week with the Yukon, I was practically begging for the Lancer back.

It was then that I realized that choices, like what I drove, could vastly influence my impact on the environment.

What right did I have to burn 120% more gas than the average person?

Even if I make more than the average person, it does not entitle me to take up the footprint of several average people.

There's a responsibility we have to one another as well as ourselves.

ruchi said...

Maryann, food is a good place to start!! I think that's a common starting point for a ton of people. :)

Beth, I actually read your post a while ago but I reread it yesterday. It's so interesting how much we've changed in so little time, huh? Though I guess for you, it's more going back to your roots.

Melissa, that's cool that your trip to India had such an effect on you! I am so excited for my trip. We'll see what kind of effect it has on me (aside from the gaining 10 pounds from all the food effect.)

Green routine, fascinating stuff. A few years ago, my car needed to be fixed as someone ummm backed into it. I got a rental and hated it, so I started driving less and walking more. It was great and I wish I had kept it up, but unfortunately when I got my car back I went back to my old bad habits.

Anonymous said...

I've always been quite health conscious, and I read a book about the dangers of microwaves and all the chemicals that the cosmetics companies can put into the products they sell without any accountability to consumers, and that pissed me off. I saw Al Gore's movie, then watched Robert Redford's 'The Green' series on the Sundance Channel, and learned more and more about what I can do, just little ole me, to help reverse the damage we've done to our planet.

I found NIM, then Crunchy, then you Arduous, and FPF, all from NIM's site. With all of you blogging, it's made me feel less like an ecofreak and more like a band of people determined to change the course of society's destruction of nature.

Now I compost, vermicompost, buy in bulk, use/recycle very little plastic, turn off all lights and A/C or heat, take navy showers, water with my pee :), use cloth wipes, buy organic and local, and eat very little meat. Oh, and I got on my bike for the first time in 20 years!!!

See what you all have done to me!!!! Keep up the good work!