Eco Etiquette: Help! I Feel Like Giving Up On Green

Send all your eco-inquiries to Jennifer Grayson at Questions may be edited for length and clarity.

I'm so fed up with what's going on with our country right now. The Tea Party trying to get rid of the EPA, every day more news about some toxic chemical that's not regulated, the whole fracking thing... I used to be enthusiastic about going green, but now I feel like what's the point? Like a stupid reusable water bottle is going to make a difference...


We have a saying in our family: F**k it. It usually pops out when we find ourselves in the midst of frustration; in that type of circumstance we've all encountered where at every turn you meet an obstacle -- where, despite your best efforts, you feel like Sisyphus pushing his rock up the mountain in vain.

My husband and I had such a moment the last time we went to Ikea. We entered the store with grand visions of decorating our new apartment; two hours in, all we had in the bag were a couple of CFLs and an argument about whether or not we could paint a Billy bookshelf so it didn't look like a piece of cheap particleboard. F**k it, we said, dropped our bag, and walked out of the store.

Not a profound example, I know, but you get the point. You're having a F**k it moment right now, and quite honestly, I don't blame you.

How can anyone focus on reusable water bottles at a time like this? The Republicans have seemingly gone to war against the Environmental Protection Agency. The State Department is considering approval of a Canada-to-Texas crude pipeline that could threaten the drinking water of millions of Americans. And just last week, President Obama caved to corporate polluters, scrapping his plans for cleaner air for us all.

Then, too, there's the depressingly never-ending tally of environmental devastation that's happening with or without the politics. Arctic sea ice at an all-record low. Fukushima radiation spewing into the Pacific. Our entire monetary system contaminated with BPA.

Makes you want to crack open a bottle of Aquafina and gas guzzle your way to the store to shop for factory farmed meat products individually wrapped in plastic, right? F**k it.

I jest, of course. But we all have moments when we ask ourselves, Is what I'm doing really worth it? -- yours truly, included. But I believe in my heart of hearts that it is, or I wouldn't be sitting here in the 100-degree September heat writing this column (damn you, global warming). Here's how I get back on track.

First, take a time out. Step away from the TV and your Treehugger Twitter feed, and give yourself a week to turn a blind eye to all eco-related news coverage. Instead, use that time to take a walk in the park, go for a hike in the woods -- anything to get you outside and connecting you with nature. Think of your relationship with environmentalism like a romantic one: Sometimes you need to step away and rediscover what sparked that initial passion. During this "break," too, don't sweat the small stuff. This is time for you to take a deep breath and look at the big picture, not obsess over which brand of organic lentils to buy.

After your sustainable vacay, it's time to get inspired. I like to frequent the Working for Green website. It's chock full of inspiring little videos about everyday Americans (from all walks of life and of every political persuasion) who are making a difference. You can also check out any of the TED talks on the environment, or borrow an environmental classic from your local library -- it doesn't matter. The key here is to focus on positive stories that will renew your faith in humankind.

Next, put it all in perspective. It may seem like Michele Bachmann and her EPA-abolishing hordes are taking over the universe, but I really believe that the overblown media coverage doesn't accurately reflect how most people feel about the environment. In fact, 61 percent of Americans -- and more than two-thirds of Independents -- disagree with Rep. Bachmann. Sixty-three percent of Americans want the EPA to "do more to hold polluters accountable."

Then, remember that individual actions do make a difference. Our landfills and oceans aren't filling up with plastic trash because the federal government put it there; it's there because we decided to buy water in plastic bottles instead of drinking it from the tap. Our agricultural policies may make cheap factory-farmed food readily available, but no on forced us to stop cooking for our families and take them to the drive-thru. Renew your commitment to those small steps to sustainability; so much of the change really does start with you.

And finally, focus on local efforts. The Tea Partyers are right about one thing -- the federal government isn't always the most efficient means of effecting change. So many of the most exciting green initiatives -- from Boston's bike share to Detroit's citizen forester program to San Antonio's move to zero waste -- are happening at the local level. You may not be able to change Congress right now, but you can change your own corner of the world. So pick a cause, roll up your sleeves, and get back to work.