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Eco Etiquette: Why I'm Giving Up My BlackBerry For Earth Day

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I've received a lot of questions about how I'm planning to celebrate Earth Day. Here's my response.

Yesterday was the last straw.

It was a beautiful California morning, at least for my taste -- unseasonably cool, overcast, and with just a hint of drizzle sprinkling my cheeks as I headed out to my favorite weekday hiking spot. I spent a blissful hour on the trail, listening to the bright chatter of baby birds, breathing in the heady scent of wild sage and lavender, and feeling the soft wind caress my neck before it whispered its way through the tall grasses down the side of the mountain.

Or at least that's what I think I did. The truth is, I had to reconstruct the whole pastoral tableau after the fact, because the only thing I really remember from that whole walk was the blinking light of my BlackBerry. (For those wondering how I was wired in the wilderness, this is Los Angeles; it's not uncommon to see a starlet in full makeup and bikini hoofing it up Runyon Canyon while on a conference call with her agent and manager.)

There's been a lot written about PDAs poisoning people's personal relationships; we've all heard the one about the wife unraveling her marriage because she can't give her husband more than five minutes of attention away from the iPhone, or the potential boyfriend posting the play-by-play of a third date ( guessed it!) via Twitter.

I, however, have no problem putting the thing away in social situations; I would never, ever, check a text message while at dinner with friends or hold up a grocery line responding to an email. But I'm starting to realize that my BlackBerry is ruining a different kind of relationship altogether: the one I have with the natural world.

My relationship with Mother Nature has largely disintegrated since I "upgraded" to a BlackBerry about a year ago (late adopter). And I'm not just referring to trail-texting: I find myself generally distracted from the day-to-day beauty of life on earth: watching the sun stream through my window when I wake up in the morning, or noting a fluffy squirrel's antics while I'm waiting to cross the street. I don't have patience for any of these things anymore -- I'm too busy checking my email.

That's why to celebrate this Earth Day, I've decided to recycle my BlackBerry and go back to a good old-fashioned cell phone.

I could say I'm doing it for the energy savings, since arguably that could be reason enough: The International Energy Agency estimates that the increasing demand for electricity from smart phones and other mobile devices could contribute to a doubling of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2030.

But really, it's a lifestyle choice: It's part of my job as an environmental writer to be able to stop and smell the roses. After all, how can I convincingly persuade others to care about this beautiful planet if all I ever do is watch a computer screen and National Geographic specials recorded via the DVR? And the truth is, I work largely from home; only about 1 percent of the texts and emails I receive while out and about are actually time-sensitive enough to warrant a near-instantaneous response.

The irony doesn't escape me that 15 of the 20 emails I deemed too important to skip over during my hike yesterday were press releases about upcoming Earth Day events. Important? Certainly. But worth sacrificing my own allotted time for a little Earth appreciation? Not really.

Some may make the argument that mobile devices give them the freedom to enjoy the great outdoors even more. I'm sure there's a surf-loving lawyer out there who will credit his iPhone for transforming the beach into his morning office, but I have yet to meet him. More likely though, you're like me: twiddling your BlackBerry thumbs out of force of habit, or an anxiety to organize and edit the seemingly never-ending flow of communication that occurs when you've made yourself ever-accessible.

But at what cost? Science has shown that access to nature is crucial to human health and well-being; violence and crime, for example, tend to be higher in urban areas without trees and grass. I would add that unfettered and uninterrupted access to nature is vital to the health of our planet, as well. People need to see -- not just via mobile Twitter updates, but in the real world -- the ways we're harming our environment. And they need to be able to fully grasp the beauty of what we may lose if we don't take action. I, for one, intend to start living life with my eyes wide open (and thumbs tucked into my pockets).

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