June 2011 Archives

View of muddy river polluted by sediment

Image via Wikipedia

"How many of you believe the government doesn't do enough to address environmental issues - air pollution, water pollution, saving the rain forests?"

Even in 1978, every student in my college economics class raised a hand.

"How many of you recycle at home, sorting your paper and cans, and putting them out to the curb?"

Only the professor's hand went up. The professor was Murray Wiedenbaum, served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Richard Nixon and was chair of Reagan's Council of Economic Advisors. Safe to say, he was a pretty conservative guy.

His point was that even though we were all the liberal tree-huggers berating the government for not doing more to save the environment, he was the only one who was taking those small personal steps to make a difference.

While I still don't agree with much of Dr. Wiedenbaum's political views, I do recycle everything I can in our household, from paper and cans, to taking used items to the Goodwill for re-sale. On the other hand, my even more liberal husband does not.

I see this same pattern everywhere.

Dr. Umair Haque, a Harvard Business School professor tweets and blogs a lot about the problems of a society where the highest value is buying as much stuff as possible for the lowest possible price. If that means we buy stuff made in China instead of by our neighbor, well, as my husband says, that's just the global economy and nothing we do will make any difference.

Following many people's responses to Dr. Haque, I'd say many educated, well-off people in America, like my husband and like my college classmates fast-forward 30 years agree that there's nothing we can do as individuals.

I disagree 100% .  When I buy clothes, the first places I go are American Apparel, which sells clothes made in America, and Diviner Duds, a small company that makes children's clothing. When I needed a new desk for my office lately, I bought it at furniture store down the street instead of at Wal-Mart or Staples. Extra bonus, it was made in the U.S. When I needed a new couch (yes, I have a couch in my office, what of it?), I bought it at another local business.Yesterday, I went shopping at the Farmers Market and bought food for the next few days from local farmers. When I was at Disney World, I bought my granddaughter a few toys but mostly, I said, "No" because she didn't need any more useless plastic crap.

On the other hand, we went out to eat a lot, went swimming a lot, stayed at a nice hotel. My money mostly went to paying wages for people who waited on us in restaurants, cleaned the rooms.

I say, "No" to my 13-year-old daughter a lot, also. On the other hand, we went to the central library in Los Angeles, yesterday, which is gorgeous.

We're not living this deprived existence but I DO think with almost every choice I make if there is an alternative more in keeping with my values. I know what my values are. I want my children to have a cleaner environment, be literate, not value things above experiencing life, from physical activity like swimming to intellectual activity like reading.

Am I perfect in that respect? I am so far from it that the question is laughable. However, I do succeed in recycling about 15% of what goes out of this house. If everyone did this, it would make a rather huge dent in a lot of environmental problems. So, if you don't, why not? If you complain about rain forests being cut down for raising cattle, do you buy your meat at the farmers market, or, like three of my daughters (not me!) have you given up eating meat?

You do what you can. If you're not doing anything, then you're just another of those not-so-innocent bystanders that Dr. Longie talks about in his ethics courses. Want change the world? Change yourself or shut the hell up.