By Monica Wilcox
I’m beyond fear, beyond anger, I’m downright seething.
It’s not that quick, knock-the-bowl-off-the-counter kind — but the slow, drawn out, meltdown kind of livid. I want to know who was cocky enough to build nuclear power plants ON the Ring of Fire (there are a few beauties in California too). I’m angry that I’m supposed to feel reassured that this radioactive disaster is not in my backyard. We are in a locked biological system! Despite no immediate health threats on our home turf, Japan’s nuclear mess is our mess. As I watch the deterioration of multiple nuclear reactors from the comfort of my 70 degree, well-lit home, I’m curious: how long do Americans plan to continue on with the environmental status quo?
I’m irate because I know the answer to that question: when it becomes good and damn unprofitable.
Let’s Be Honest About This Green Thing
The truth is most people don’t want to be held personally responsible for our environment. I grew up with a man who considered himself a conversationalist, but was, truly, one of those early environmentalists. I watched my father dedicate his adult life to protecting Wyoming’s land and water. I played at the back of town hall meetings as he argued with farmers who were over-irrigating the Colorado River, and meetings with coal mining companies who were carving huge pock marks out of the land. His cause, the protection of our natural resources, was extremely unpopular through all of the ’70s, ’80s and into the ’90s. He was “the Tree-Hugger,” “the Granola,” the “Sierra Club Kook.”
Next: 4 Ways To Counterbalance Japan’s Catastrophe
Honestly, his cause was not even appreciated in his own household: don’t pollute, six inch deep baths, a home never heated above 64 degrees, panels of insulation we’d have to pull off the windows if we wanted to see outside. I gave a hoot, alright — a hoot about getting a shower more than three minutes long. It was…uncomfortable and inconvenient. My childhood was a firsthand account of why many Americans are not very good with uncomfortable and inconvenient. I get it.
I also understand how overwhelming the “environmental issue” is. How can I slow the devastation of the Amazon rainforest? How am I supposed to save the turtles, frogs, bees, lodge pole pines, dolphins, sharks, and the manatee? Environmental experts are asking me to believe that recycling plastic and eating less beef is going to save the polar bear population? How can a 41 year-old gal have any impact on a planet that’s capable of creating a 24 foot wave in a matter of minutes?
Are You Ready To Talk Green?
For 30 years we’ve watched the environmental movement push their case but I feel they made a critical error: much of it was done in fear, not love. Can we blame them? If you believed your house was deteriorating around you, wouldn’t you be damn scared? And fear always draws attention — but it can also make people feel defensive, powerless, and turned off. A wall of public opinion built up against my father and the environmental movement. I watched him justify our clean water, trees to build our homes, mature forests to clean our air — but people didn’t want to HEAR their choices were destroying this planet. So they turned away to check out all the bells and whistles on the latest Smartphone.
So I’m confused.
How can we approach the subject of massive social change toward our energy consumption without turning off the majority? Because this is a fantastically abysmal time to take proactive steps. Between the Gulf oil incident, the increase in our dependence on oil, and now the breakdown of these nuclear reactors, I think it’s fair to say we’ve done an abysmal job caring for the planet over the last year. In fact, I’m going to take a green leap and label our energy system as barbaric. Yes, barbaric! As in slavery was barbaric to humanity; our energy systems are barbaric to this planet.
Can we afford to make unconscious energy mistakes anymore? Why are they building oil wells so deep in the ocean they can’t reach the shut-off valve? Why wasn’t there a third shut-off valve for the second shut-off valve for the first shut-off valve? Why wasn’t there a back up system for the back up water cooling system in these toxic structures? Why are they building nuclear plants ON a coast line or a fault line? Are they building them at the base of active volcanoes? How many toxic “incidents” are we going to have before the survival of sea turtles becomes the least of our concerns?
Can we finally, finally, admit that the human race is NOT capable of building anything that Mother Nature cannot destroy? Consider her as the house in a Vegas casino: over time she’s ALWAYS going to win.
We Are The Demand
We are a species carrying iPads with a million applications but to create family cars that get 50 MPG are beyond us. We’re capable of massive LED screens that roll up like fabric but installing solar panels on every new home as a standard is just not feasible. I don’t want to hear this crap anymore! The truth, the absolute truth, is in our homes and offices: our society is more interested in technology as entertainment than using it to create solid energy solutions that coincide with Mother Nature.
But this isn’t about technology, it’s about demand. Not from the World Wildlife Fund or Greenpeace or Al Gore — but as a total population. The status quo will not change until you and I JUSTIFY it. We are the ones who will determine when our energy system has become unprofitable, not Exxon.
Do you think we are ready to take responsibility for our impact on this planet? The electricity we demand, the gas we demand, the water and land, the food, the up-to-date electronics? Because WE are the demand! We are the demand.
Be The Demand
If you’re ready to do something proactive to counterbalance the tragedy in Japan and the Gulf, here are four powerful steps:
- Change Your Perception of Stuff. Every material object EQUATES to energy. My son sees a “free” toy and thinks, “No money? I’ll take five of them.” I have to explain to him that this plastic toy has a money value and an energy value: the petroleum in the plastic, the electricity to manufacture, the gas to haul it to this store, the electricity to light the store, the gas to haul it to the dump, the land to hold it for the next 1,000 years. EVERYTHING has an energy cost. Even that delectable tomato you grew out of your own garden. Every time you buy, eat, use, dump a product, you are voting how our resources are going to be used. So if your child isn’t going to take the toy in his McDonald’s meal out of the wrapper, have him request that they keep it for someone else.
- Eliminate Unnecessary Energy Usage. Think about the average amount of time you use a water bottle: 30 minutes tops? And maybe you are recycling them (better than the trash) but remember it costs energy to recycle that bottle. If it costs more energy to recycle than the energy we will gain from reusing it… Obviously, the best choice would be one drinking container you reuse for years. My personal favorite energy dilemma is the used paint brush. Which choice is the least energy taxing: chemicals to remove the paint from the brush (and where do you deposit that paint thinner?), gallons of paint filled water to clean it, or throwing the used brush in the trash? I buy the cheapest wooden brush, keep it wet until I’m done painting and then throw it in the trash. Not an easy decision. For more energy conscious ideas check out The Energy Guy.
- Buy “Greener” products. I’m not thrilled about supporting chicken farms whose chickens have never seen the sun. I spend the extra money for eggs that come from open range chickens and I’ve found a brand that isn’t that much more than regular eggs at Costco. Choose areas you are willing to demand greener products. If you’re torn between products, go for the “greener” one. Not sure which one is greener? There’s an app for that: Good Guide.
- Take One Environmental Stand. What is your absolute favorite aspect of nature: bird watching, city parks, the ocean, the mountains, snakes? Find a group that supports this area and give YOUR energy to it. Environmental groups are making it incredibly easy for your voice to be heard. Don’t want another oil well drilled? There’s a group working for that. Want to snorkel without mounds of trash floating by? There’s a group working for that. Here are a few great places to start:
- Union of Concerned Scientists-Citizens and Scientists for Environmental Solutions
- Oceana-Protecting the Worlds Oceans
- Sierra Club-Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet
- Earthjustice-Because the World Needs a Good Lawyer
You and I are deciding right now how our energy is going to be used and reused. The question is, are we ready to demand a change? Are you ready to go beyond “thinking green” to “living green”? If so, how? Inspire the rest of us!
* * *