An Environmentalist's Dilemma

Since I spent all of my formative years in Buffalo, NY, winter and all its trappings has long since lost its appeal for me. A few years ago I was waylaid at home during the holidays for an extra two weeks because of the seven feet of snow on the ground (the same storm in which my mom and I finally procured a sled from the recesses of the garage and trudged a mile to the grocery store because we needed, among other things, a case of beer), which sealed the deal--give me hot sun and a beach over skiing and snowmen any time.

So of course strolling over to the Hudson River Park this past Saturday and sitting down to read my book and bask in the sunny, 70-degree day thrilled me to no end. This is heaven, I thought, closing my eyes and smiling.

Then I thought: this is January in New York City.

By now, we've all seen An Inconvenient Truth (except for President Bush)
and understand the dire reality, that is, the destruction of our planet, and how quickly it's happening. Laurie David (the producer of An Inconvenient Truth and one of the premier and most passionate environmentalists of our time) says we have a fast-dwindling window of about ten years or less to turn the tide.

So am I a bad person for absolutely relishing the beautiful weather this weekend? Part of me wants to say yes, even though I know that's not quite accurate. But I have become preoccupied with how to reconcile wanting to do something to save our planet with daily living in a world that doesn't make it very easy. And the fight to save the environment--while arguably being more important than any other issue, including our amorphous battle against terrorism--is still only one part of a bigger landscape that's underscored by rapacious consumerism and globalization. I'm an avid runner, but where and under what conditions are my Nike sneakers made? I buy cute, trendy tops for a night on the town, but how little are the people who make the things from Forever 21 getting paid that they're so cheap and disposable?

This type of quandary could actually make a person lose her mind. Instead of going crazy, though, I've come to a new year's resolution. I will enjoy the small pleasure of any good weather that comes my way, even if it's in the middle of winter. But when it comes to the environment (and the overarching global economic world as well), I've come to the conclusion that every person can make a very real difference. So on my very personal, micro level, I've begun to integrate both awareness and action into my lifestyle.

First, I save energy whenever I possibly can (I switched to green power from my electricity supplier Con Edison [you can too] and I also turn off lights and the power on anything electronic I use every chance I get). Living in Manhattan, it's easy to walk or bike or take the train any and everywhere, so in aiming to decrease my use of fossil fuels, I try to fly as little as possible and when I am in other cities, drive as little as possible. I avoid SUV's like the plague.

More broadly, I reuse things as much as is feasible (I take discarded paper home from the office I work in as a freelancer and use it a second time, just running it backwards through my printer when I need to print something, and I always wash and reuse plastic forks, knives and spoons and water bottles), and I steer clear of packaging; for example, I almost never take the plastic bags home from the supermarket, preferring to carry my groceries in my own shoulder bag(s).

And when it comes to buying consumer products like clothes and electronics, I try to do as much research as I can, and frequent corporations/stores/suppliers with solid track records in fair trade and treatment of their employees (everything from Jack's coffee shop in my West Village neighborhood to American Apparel come to mind) and when I come across places that exploit their workers in order to appeal to our at times vulture-like consumer sensibilities, I tell other people and also write the company an email or letter explaining why I am not a customer.

For me, all of this started with a little bit of knowledge combined with a bigger dose of fear. So most importantly, I spread the word whenever and wherever I possibly can. I'm not pointing the finger at anyone else's perceptions (or lack thereof), but as the saying goes, ignorance is bliss, and I'm finding a little proselytizing never hurt anyone.