Earth Day 2014: My two-step plan

Posted on Apr 22, 2014 | 0 comments

Every day I hear about something new I can do to save the planet. Last week I learned I should stop eating meat…and cheese. So far, I have done neither, although I know without a doubt that more bad than good comes from our American way of food production.

Radical erosion of the cliffs that once towered over my favorite beach has been linked to climate change

Radical erosion of the cliffs that once towered over my favorite beach has been linked to climate change

And I KNOW the planet needs saving. If you aren’t sure about this, read what the scientists have to say.

But even knowing this, it is difficult to change, especially when change requires bringing along a family of four.

In fact, acting responsibly toward the planet seems crazy-hard these days. In my house, we put a fair amount of energy into recycling and freecycling. We’ve changed out all the bulbs for compact fluorescents. We use only organic lawn treatments. We drive energy-efficient cars, we walk a lot, and we ride our bicycles.

Yet these are tiny—tiny!— drops in the enormous bucket of change needed to halt the progress of man-made climate change. And as a consequence, even these small acts sometimes seem futile. It feels like there is a huge gap between what is practical for a normal person living in the context of a middle-American suburb and what is truly needed to have an impact on the problem.

I didn’t write WASHASHORE with the intention of creating a book with an environmental “message.” I simply was moved by the story of the Martha’s Vineyard ospreys and how a change in public policy (banning DDT) combined with human action (Gus Ben David’s nesting pole project) combined to bring them back from the brink. The story fit well with the emotional story I wanted to tell about how Clem found her way through a year of family change and loss.

Yet when the book was complete, I saw that the story of how Clem learned that humans could succeed in reversing environmental harms to a single species could be empowering. We all need to know that our actions are having an impact, or else why bother?

(By the way, my publisher created an awesome teacher’s guide to help realize the book’s potential for educating children on environmental action and stewardship.)

Which brings me back to my personal quandary. How to feel empowered enough to step up my own environmental efforts? I am an imperfect, easily distracted and sometimes just plain lazy human, but so are most of us. Are we doomed? I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and for the moment, here’s my imperfect answer.

On the personal, household, family level, pick something that feels do-able. One new thing to step up your efforts. Here’s a great list from the Union of Concerned Scientists. For me, I think it will be a reduction of beef in the family diet. I’ll consider it a step in the right direction, and make plans to take another step when that one has become second-nature.

But there is an important part two: advocate for policy change. None of us is going to make a shred of difference unless the people who have real power make significant changes. And there are things we can do to help them along. So step two is advocacy. Here are two organizations that offer a road map. Feel free to post others in the comments.

  • helps members put economic pressure on the companies that are benefiting most from greenhouse gas-creating energy. The organization, founded by writer Bill McKibben, has advice for all kinds of advocacy, from the radical (tomorrow a group of ranchers will ride into Washington DC on horseback and set up camp near the White House to oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline) to the more mundane (write a letter to the college you attended and urge them to divest their fossil fuel stocks. I’m going to write to the members of the Board of Overseers at my Alma Mater). Check it out here.
  • Citizens Climate Lobby helps regular people like you and me learn how to advocate for U.S. legislation that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They are practical, and focused. Here’s what founder Marshall Saunders says about his inspiration: “After I had given just a few talks about the climate, I realized that the actions I was suggesting to my listeners to take, while essential, were not a match for the problem. I realized that anything they intended to do would be swamped by what the government did or did not do. I realized that ordinary people like me would have to organize, educate ourselves, give up our hopelessness and powerlessness, and gain the skills to be effective with our government.” Doesn’t that sound about right? Find out more here.

So that’s my action plan for this Earth Day: two steps. Cut back on beef, and step up my advocacy . What’s yours?


[Update: I came across this super-informative post from Planet Green today and wanted to share.]


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