I was in 5th grade when I understood for the first time that the humans on planet earth had the power to annihilate each other. This was in the late 70s, a period I like to call the freezer-burn stage of the Cold War. I remember being angry at the adults who had created the bomb and the adults who ran the countries who owned bombs and the adults who were stupid enough to stumble into excuses to launch the bombs. In my mind, and the minds of many kids of my generation, nuclear war was not so much a possibility as an inevitability. It was just a question of when.
Remembering this helps me better understand what my son Ethan is going through. He is passionate about the environment and obsessed with the issue of global warming. He is pretty much convinced that the adults will destroy the earth before he gets a chance to grow up. His passion and concern frightens me sometimes (should a 12-year old be losing sleep over the demise of polar ice caps?) but he also inspires me to conserve resources and try to leave more behind as a legacy for my children. I am by no means a model of tree-hugging ethics. But I try harder than I would if I had no sense of obligation to my offspring.
Tomorrow, Thursday November 15th is America Recycles Day. In honor of this day, here are a few things I will do.
1. Post something about it on my blog (check). Encourage people to go to the America Recycles Day website where they can do a cool "Conversionator" exercise to calculate the impact of their recycling efforts. We learned that by recycling our Sunday newspapers each week we saved 8 trees this year! (This made Ethan, the bird-lover very happy). We also learned that the Compact Florescent Lightbulbs we installed in our home this year use one-fifth the energy of a regular bulb (and I thought we were just saving money). We also learned that recycling one glass jar saves enough electricity to power a CF lightbulb for 60 hours. This year, we recycled enough glass jars to power zero lightbulbs for zero hours.
2. Call my city officials and ask why we don't recycle glass around here. We're already recycling cardboard, paper, plastic products, etc. but glass takes a phenomenal amount of energy to produce. I hate it every time I have to throw away a spaghetti sauce jar. Maybe we should just boycott spaghetti.
3. Get serious about reducing our use of plastics. I learned on this broadcast about this book that plastic is forever and there are continent-sized islands of it floating in the ocean. No wonder Ethan is losing sleep over these things. I vow to put a big wad of plastic grocery bags in my van. I will use these when I go to the grocery store instead of getting new ones. Sure we can recycle the old bags, but isn't it even smarter to keep using the same ones over and over? It still takes 17 BTUs of energy to recycle one pound of plastic bags in a process that produces greenhouse gases. (Plus the Wall Street Journal reported that only 1-3% of plastic bags actually get recycled).
I remember when we lived in Spain it was the shopper's responsibility to bring their own bags for their purchases. My mom had a great little cart on wheels that she kept stored by the front door of the apartment just for that purpose. I think I can handle keeping some bags in the van. I should look into buying some more sturdy, reusable ones too.
4. Encourage my students and everyone I know to go to this website and read everything there is to read about the No Impact Man and his amazing idea. I heard about this family and their plan to live a year with zero impact on the planet this spring in this NPR discussion. I think no other single story about the environment has impressed me more. If this family can make their own shampoo, buy only food produced locally, walk up and down 9 flights to their apartment several times a day and give up toilet paper for a year, I'm sure I can think of something.
5. I will ride my bike on at least one errand that I would normally do with the car.
6. I will support Ethan and McKay in their plans to promote America Recycles Day (I believe this may involve public spectacle in front of the grocery store, but I must be willing to sacrifice myself and my ego for the cause, right?)
Let me know if you have any plans to help save planet earth. The kids living on it will thank you.