Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A drop in the bucket

In an uncanny Earth Day point-counterpoint, I bring you dueling commentary by Michael Pollan of the NY Times and Hank Stuever of the Washington Post. Pollan, in "Why Bother?" argues for the virtue of being a drop in the bucket of environmentalism. It's a brilliant, passionate article that ends with a plea for home gardens (no big suprise; Pollan has built his reputation as a food writer). Stuever, in short order manages to declare Earth Day dead and buried ("What Killed Earth Day? Too Much Fuss And No Bother") and even references Pollan's article with a dismissive suggestion that "insisting that everyone garden, right now" was just too much silliness. (I've read and enjoyed some of Stuever's other nonfiction and this was a lazy shadow of a much better writer; trust me.)

It's easy to say that the environmental movement has had no impact, since we are in such a pickle today. It's very easy, apparently, to string together 373 words with a few superficial pop culture references in a bored, post-modernist tone and claim that Earth Day is dead at a time when it's been the focus of more activity -- serious activity -- than I've witnessed in years. Yes, there's greenwashing. Yes, there's confusion about exactly what the "right choices" are. But to say that there hasn't been change or progress since 1970 is not only facile, it's misinformed. I know, because he's talking about my entire adult life.

Unlike Hank Steuver (who appears to be in his early 40s, and therefore a tot in 1970), I was on the verge of my twenty-first birthday on April 22, 1970. I was a junior in college and wondering about my future and the future of the world, feeling utterly powerless in the face of nuclear proliferation, global conflict and the seemingly endless assassinations of my heroes. You'd think that Earth Day, with its doomsday predictions of environmental crisis, would have pushed me into permanent depression. But the power of the environmental movement, for me, is that the personal level means something. There WAS something I could do; in fact there were lots of things. I could choose to live and work near public transportation. I could grow and cook my own food. I could have no more than two children. I could redefine the American Dream for myself and my family, and raise young adults who shared that dream. I could live and consume consciously, with open eyes.

I wasn't alone; I was one of millions of people around the world who heard the message and applied it to their lives in a million different ways. Yes, we still have problems, yes we may still experience a global crisis. That's because millions of other people have made other choices, or had their choices limited by greedy producers and investors. Everything we do in our daily lives is "a drop in the bucket"; but the millions of us who have been reducing, reusing and recycling all these years represent drops in the RIGHT bucket. Imagine: we'd all be much worse off if we hadn't made those choices.

I haven't been perfect, and never will be. But I think about the choices I make and the result has been a rich life, not a poor one: satisfying work, good music, tasty meals shared with people I love, time to think and the resources to invest in improving my community.
That's what I want for my children and all the world's children, and for their children.


CP said...

The nuns who taught in my school -- Canadians, all from Regina -- managed to secure a huge parachute silk from Malstrom Air Force base. We played non-competitive games all that afternoon. We all held the silk by the edges and fluffered it up, fluffered it down....odd/evens took turns releasing it and running under...etc.

Save for the Sunday driving, which we did too (sticky plastic seats and pink thighs in summer; sunburnt and hot.), the lifestyle on the high prairie long ago and far away was rather green because it was hardcrabble mining town modest.

Jo Paoletti said...

Can't wait to hear your thoughts on the eco-friendly Barbie accessories!