But What About the Micro-environment?: A Challenge To the “Green” Generations

August 3, 2010 at 9:10 pm Leave a comment

    You hear a lot these days about environmentalism – everything from international quotas for air pollution to how many sheets of toilet tissue we should use per bathroom visit. Preaching on the subject has become a religion for some people, and public school curricula encompass ecological studies from kindergarten on up.

Doesn’t it all boil down, though, to the glitzy repackaging of a decades-old idea? A lot of us baby-boomers grew up with the concept that intelligent stewardship of resources is a sign of good character. We learned it from parents who had lived through the Depression and had honed “reduce, reuse, recycle” to an art form long before our children and grandchildren ever had it written into a classroom teaching module; we were instructed in it by scout leaders who taught us to leave our campsites even better than we found them; we heard it promoted by Lyndon Johnson’s wife Lady Byrd, who spearheaded a “Beautify America” campaign.

It was called conservationism back then, and it was basically good common sense applied to everyday life: don’t do anything selfish or shortsighted that will make living conditions worse for others; respect other people’s property; don’t waste food or material goods or electricity; don’t litter.

This uncomplicated logic suggests that our own neighborhoods should shine with examples of good citizenship. One would think that would be the easy part. But if we can’t master the easy stuff, is there any hope for developing this universal sense of accountability we keep hearing about?

So why the curmudgeonly rant? Well, I’m a walker. I walk the sidewalks and paths around my neighborhood six days a week, come rain or shine or sleet or snow. I walk to the grocery store and the produce market and the Post Office (conserving gas); I walk to and through the local parks (saving gym fees); I walk to the library (preserving brain cells); I walk to the corner store (supporting local merchants). These trips are fraught with glaring indications that attempts to nurture interest in “sustaining the planet” have not taken root.

One case in point is bus stops. Invariably the grounds around them are strewn with litter. Public transit is an eco-friendly approach to getting from point A to point B, right? Yet all of the alarmist headlines don’t seem to have convinced enough people that stashing trash in a bin – or in your own briefcase or backpack until you find a receptacle – is the tiny seed from which grows a more pleasant environment for all.

But it’s not just the bus stops. Much of the territory I cover provides extravagant examples that a disappointing percentage of the public exercises neither common sense nor common courtesy. For every three-mile trek I take, I see dozens of bottles, cans, cigarette packs, bags, Styrofoam chunks, drink cups, food wrappers, napkins, and drinking straws; the whole gamut of consumer garbage.

Observing all of this leads me to ask, why it is that the subsidized, “green alternative” public transit lines don’t provide waste containers for their customers? Or more to the point, where the heck is the social conscience of the litterers, on whose environmental education many taxpayer dollars have been expended? How successful is this ongoing crusade to produce generations of enlightened citizens, when right under our noses we suffer so much evidence of people not giving a whack? And again, how will we ever address global concerns if we can’t even keep our own backyards tidy?

While I realize that not all who use public transportation do so out of respect for their “Mama,” the Earth, it’s also true that purveyors of conventional wisdom encourage mass transit patrons to feel noble about that choice. The term cognitive dissonance comes to mind, as I picture the self-congratulatory bus rider flipping his McDonald’s bag into the street as he climbs those rubber-gridded steps.

For a long time I muttered and theorized under my breath, as I tromped around town trying not to indulge in righteous indignation of the pious sort. I’ve now adopted a more constructive response to the despoiling of the “walkable community” I call home, and gained some peace of mind in the bargain.

So until those among us who perpetuate the mess I’ve described step up and take responsibility for their actions, I’ll be that crazy lady in the goofy Sylvester baseball cap toting a recycled plastic grocery bag stuffed with other people’s lifestyle-debris. I’ll be interrupting my stride to scoop up that Red Bull can or crumpled Camels package, but I’ll also be feeling every bit as noble as the greenie bus riders who have trashed my neighborhood before boarding public transit to get to theirs.

And I’ll be smiling serenely, because small patches of my neck of the woods are looking a little more beautiful these days. I think Lady Byrd would approve.

Anyone care to join me?

Entry filed under: Advice For Life. Tags: , , .

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