Apr 212003
Authors: Shannon Baldwin

It’s Earth Day. Hug a tree!

Time to stop think about the one thing that we as Americans just hate to think about. Giving something up for the greater good that might just mean a slight short-term inconvenience. Time to think beyond the immediate gratification and concentrate on the long-term consequences of our rock-n-roll lifestyles.

It’s the day to think about being OK with accepting a little bit of a different standard of living so that we will have something of a legacy left to hand to our children. Not a lesser standard, mind you, just a different one. A little bit of an attitude adjustment that admits and acknowledges that it is not our God given right to take everything we want and completely trash the place.

Do I sound like a tree-hugging, peace-loving, hemp-wearing, bleeding-heart liberal hippie yet?

I know. Somehow I managed to become slightly environmentally conscious despite my Republican upbringing. (Kidding! That one was for my dad. Happy Birthday, you cold-hearted Reaganite.) I grew up recycling aluminum cans and newspapers in my house well before it became the “in” thing to do. I really respect my parents for this, since it took a lot of extra work to take the recyclables to the designated drop off, making sure that no inappropriate items had managed to escape into the bins during the week. This was before waste removal companies started picking those things up along with the trash.

That was the start of it. Then I took a field trip, (remember those? Long bus rides, sack lunches, passing contraband candy around and lots of giggling?), with my elementary school class. We went to a landfill. Burning tires. I remember the stacks and stacks of used tires…waiting to be burned. The stench. The smoke.

Then there was the actual trash. My God! Trucks kept coming in, bringing load after load…just a day’s regular delivery. How much could the land take? Why was there so much? What kind of society demands that each individual slice of cheese be pre-wrapped? How much plastic does that accumulate over time? Those were the days when fast-food places still gave carry-outs in Styrofoam containers. Now, everyone knows that stuff is going to be around long after we are gone, and possibly even outlast the shelf life of a Twinkie.

I hadn’t read Herbert Marcuse at the time, but he has a quote from his book, “One-Dimensional Man” that I find painfully familiar: “Here, the social controls exact the over-whelming need for the production and consumption of waste.”

During high school, I was a member of the Green Club -the environmental group (Dad, if your wondering where the seeds of my liberalism came from, that would be a good place to start). I don’t know how a lot of my classmates spent their Friday afternoons and Saturdays, but I would spend hours with the other Greens shifting through bags of sticky soda cans, picking out the trash people had placed in the wrong bins (with the trash bin right next to the recycle bins, this always blew my mind).

It would always be hot, and bees would hover above, hungry for the syrup that would cover our skin by the end of the day. Again, this was something that the club was responsible for, as recycling was not provided by the school.

Or then there was the Saturday mornings spent picking up trash in an adopt-a-highway program. That one is a mixed bag. Spending hours of my weekend picking up trash so it can just be thrown into a landfill somewhere. That was more a matter of relocation that it was cleaning up the environment. But at least my neighborhood looked better.

But I don’t regret it, and I certainly am grateful for all the things that have given me a perspective on environmental issues. Although I am just one person, change has to start somewhere. With a likely drought coming up again this summer, each person could do a little bit to help the whole. Shave five minutes off the shower, water the grass with a hose instead of an automatic sprinkler system (or at least do it at night when the sun won’t evaporate it). Make recycling a habit…and so on.

It only takes a little bit of effort to make a difference, and the realization that this is the only home we have should be enough for us to really want to do everything we can to respect it. Don’t forget to hug a tree on Arbor Day, too.

Just watch for poison ivy.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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