I had a plan to kick off the week with a National Parks Inquiry tribute but since I am heading to Lake Tahoe, site of “the straw incident” I am reminded of my interest in environmental inquiries. Oh wait, some of you don’t know about the straw incident, so let me recap in a little tale I call
“Everyone knows plastic kills.”
While we were in Lake Tahoe the last time, we were standing in the elevator with a couple of women who were going back to their room after getting drinks at the hotel’s manager reception. The Embassy Suites has chosen to use paper instead of plastic straws and ladies were discussing this with a clear intent to broadcast what they were saying to the other elevator riders.
Woman #1 “This straw tastes terrible. What ever happened to plastic straws?”
Woman #2 “Everything has to be green these days. Tasting good doesn’t matter.”
Woman #1 “It is ridiculous.” and added VERY sarcastically, “Everyone knows plastic kills.”
At this point the elevator doors opened and I was left with my ranting reply swirling in my head. I wanted to shout out “Yes, as a matter of fact plastic does kill!” and site the National Geographic’s report on the 100,000 sea turtles that die each year strangled in plastic bags not to mention the huge ocean garbage patches which are filled with photo degraded plastic* which millions of fish and sea birds inadvertently consume because it mimics the look of edible items. I could also site some very depressing facts about the toxins which may leach out of plastic and actually do kill people.
Then I realized, all science facts aside, that there is a huge problem. These women were expressing a”green backlash” opinion which I would guess is felt by the majority of American Citizens. When Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2005 it stirred up a great deal of concern about the environment and a record number of Americans polled were concerned with Global Warming and other environmental issues. As I write this today, Gallup reports that Americans are now less worried about a series of environmental problems than at any time in the past 20 years. This is frightening to me.
I mean even if you don’t believe all of the hype many so called green products profess how can it be considered ok to continue tossing piles of plastic crap into our oceans? I’m clear the woman ranting in the elevator would never intentionally feed her plastic straw to some unsuspecting fish but by totally ignoring the consequences of our plastic consumption we are well on our way to destroying the planet that is trying to feed us. In the rush to take advantage of the growing interest in planet healthy “green” products the global marketplace has totally corrupted and made people wary of all environmental claims.
Paper or Plastic? The debate and statistics pile up for both sides making the average consumer dizzy and stressed about doing what is right. You see, I whole heartedly believe people want to do the right thing. The woman in the elevator no more wants turtles to die then school children do but unless we get clear about the truth of our consumer decisions, and the reality of the impact of those decisions, we are living in a Pollyanna place where ecosystems are destroyed while we watch in disbelief.
Do I have the answers or even a remarkable resolve like Beth Terry of Fake Plastic Fish (click to see the shocking photo that changed Beth’s life)? No, I do not. But I realized, as those elevator doors closed, that it is high time I got clear about where I stand. Green marketing be damned, I am not interested in being eco-chic, we have a problem on the planet and for the sake of my daughter and all the people that will live after her and I, it is about time we un-muddle the truth. Drinking from a paper straw may not be as enjoyable as a plastic one but doing so 100% guarantees no animal will be choking on it in the future, and this is an inconvenience everyone can live with!
And then there are the plastic bags!
The whole plastic bag issue has been bugging me for decades although I wasn’t always interested in the environmental impact. At one time I thought that Americans were cooler then Austrians because we gave our customers bags at the store.
When I was 18 I participated in an AFS, year long cultural exchange program to Austria. When I arrived I was brimming with American patriotism and remember thinking how we did things back home was “so much better.” As time passed, while my patriotism did not wane, I began to see that other ways of doing things just may be just as good or even better after all. The Austrian way of gathering for Fests which included people of all generations seemed to support community far better then I had ever seen in the United States. The small local farmer was a neighbor and friend so you never worried about the food’s quality. You were there to see it grow! I also remember thinking, “How damn inconvenient they don’t give you bags at the grocery store.” and even recall telling a friend how great the USA was because of the free bags at our stores. At the time, I never even considered the amount of plastic and waste those free bags generate and that by carrying their re-useable bags those Austrians were far more environmentally conscious then we are.
I really couldn’t help it. I’m a product of my generation which was shockingly portrayed in this Mad Men picnic scene. Looks idlic until the end when Don tosses his can down the hill and Betty shakes all the garbage off their blanket and leaves it there. It really is so hard for me to believe that this behavior could have ever been ok.
Several months ago I signed up on the Care2 website. For those of you who haven’t heard of this fantastic organization I offer this introduction. They pretty much keep tabs on all the major environmental, human rights, and global issues that concern life on the planet. I subscribe to several of their newsletters and everyday I get sent updates on the various causes they inquire into. In addition to the newsletter service they have a unique program where by visits and “clicks for causes” can earn sponsorship money all at no cost to you. I have to admit I rarely participate in the clicking but I look forward to the newsletters.
In any given day I can find out how the Liger (Lion/tiger combo) cubs that were seized from a Taiwan zoo are doing, identify the 7 super foods with the best eco foot print, find out which are the greenest paper towels, join a kindness revolution or learn Fur Shui – Feng Shui for your dog. It is entirely fascinating! Of course it would take several hours to fully explore every cause and concern that comes in those daily emails but I find I can give them a quick peruse and then INQUIRE into the ones that strike my fancy. In this way I have been conducting an almost daily exploration on some environmental concern or another. I sometimes lament that I don’t have more time or money to assist many of the causes Care2 exposes me to but I definitely feel like a better global citizen just having this cursory introduction.
As a result of my daily exposure I can definitely feel my personal responsibility quotient rising. I have thought using reusable bags is a good idea for the last decade but now I go out of my way to make sure both I and my husband have the reusable bags in our vehicles at all times. When I shop I look for the least packaging possible and if I can buy used I do. The Care2 site makes it super easy to be politically active on the things important to you as well providing relevant congressional contacts and petitions. If you have ANY environmental or human rights interest it would be well worth your time to check it out!
The Practical Environmentalist – 21 Practical Ways to Help the Environment
Ecology Center- Seven Misconceptions about Plastic and Plastic Recycling
Care2 – Causes and News (information on any issue of concern to you)
(* The problem with plastic is it doesn’t biodegrade – it photo degrades into smaller and smaller pieces which in turn are eaten inadvertently by smaller and smaller animals, killing those animals and/or making them undigestible by the larger animals who depend on them for their food supply.)
Has this post made you think about your use of plastic?