You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make. – Dame Jane Goodall, British primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace
Our household has always been good about not being wasteful. Well, we preach that way of life to our kids, scolding them when they take long showers or reminding them to compost the scraps of food left on their plates. But I can’t say for certain that they are mindful when we’re not around. One hopes that growing up with this philosophy carries over into their adult lives. I developed this habit because my parents made sure we weren’t wasteful – not because they were environmentalists but because they came from a country in which you didn’t have much so you didn’t waste much. I remember when we visited the Philippines for my second and last trip, when I was an undergraduate in December 1985. Toilet paper was in short supply and you were given one napkin at restaurants, which were tiny, thin squares, and none at all at mealtimes in the home. This made a lasting impression on me. (At our home, we use cloth napkins, and when the kids were babies, we used cloth diapers.)
Although we reduce, reuse, and recycle as much as we can, I always believe there’s more that we can do. For instance, instead of bringing store-bought bottled water to the ballparks and soccer fields, we bring our BPA-free water bottles. Though it’s convenient to reach for bottled water in airports and stores, especially when I’m lazy or in a rush, I make a conscious decision to forego bottled water. The less plastic, the better.
I joke with Isabella that she will not have to buy any clothes or jewelry because she will inherit everything from me, and until then she can always borrow mostly anything from me. She doesn’t fully realize what this means, but to me, it means not having to buy a lot of “fast fashion” that won’t last long or stay in style. And it will save both of us a lot of money. She’ll have vintage clothing and jewelry at her fingertips, and I’m discovering how green it is to buy vintage or reclaimed vintage pieces, which cuts down on buying clothing that had to be manufactured.
I was reading an article last month, though I can’t seem to find it for reference, about how the biggest negative impact on the environment that clothes create is the laundering of them. I was surprised by this fact, as I assumed that the manufacturing process expended a lot of resources and was therefore the most harmful aspect of clothes, as far as the environment was concerned. The author advised readers to forego washing items after one use, especially for dry cleaning. I engage in this practice more so because I’m lazy about laundering and hate expensive dry cleaning, but it’s nice to add that it’s better for the environment, too.
We are lucky to live in an urban/suburban area, near various modes of public transportation, the Bay Area Rapid Transit or BART, casual carpool, and AC transit buses. I work at home, so my carbon footprint is even smaller. We are also lucky to be within walking distance of our elementary, middle, and high schools, so the kids walk to school, with me walking Isabella to school, unless it’s raining or we are running very late. Hence, we don’t care that much about our cars, which are both Toyotas and by society’s standards, ancient ones at that. Our older car is 20 years old. We’ve been receiving letters from some agency, offering us a thousand dollars to get our polluting car off the road. I told the mechanic who was running a smog test on the Corolla a few months ago. He scoffed; the car was fine, passed the smog test with flying colors, and would last for a long time. It was better to keep it going than to have it rust in some junkyard, he told me. Point taken.
We try to find more ways to be better conservationists, but I think the most important thing we can do is to keep inspiring our kids, the next generation, to honor Mother Earth. The kids are old enough now that they don’t buy my threat that wasting energy is melting the ice in the North Pole and therefore shrinking the polar bears’ habitat. It used to work. It’s not hard to show them things like the dirty air in the Central Valley when we visit my hometown, how you can’t see the foothills anymore because of the smog from Los Angeles that has been trapped in the valley and building up for decades. I tell them that the Central Valley region has the highest rate of asthma for children in the state and probably one of the highest in the country. Those facts hit closer to home. They make a bigger impact.
The biggest impact we can make is to spread the word of protecting our world and its resources. It starts in the home, in our neighborhood and community, and on and on. Happy Earth Day! How will you celebrate today?