An Open Letter to the Environmentally Challenged

If you were to ask me if I was, myself, an "environmentalist" (or "activist", or "conservationist", or anything with a similar connotation), my honest answer would have to be "No." I am not any of these things, and I have never been. I could make a great argument here about how growing up in 20th/21st Century America has taught me about the deranged beauty of industrialism, or about how on a long enough time line Nature's innate symmetry causes all things to balance out, or how my parents and family never espoused these things and therefore it was not part of my upbringing in any way.

I could excuse myself from having to care in any one of these ways, or any one of a hundred more, and I could walk away feeling OK about our conversation. But if I'm honest, I have to admit that most of my lack of caring has to do with my own selfish desires for comfort, convenience, ease-of-use, and several other things that have to do with my own life goals (read: lack of life goals). And because I am the prototypical 30-40 year old adult in this country, I don't even have to feel that guilty about that particular honesty. After all, there are many like me. If I'm doing it wrong, I'm not the only one.

When I met Samantha in early 2004, I was the kind of person who would throw trash out the car window, eat fast food unapologetically, laugh when people talked about the plight of the rain forests, and argue that humans would figure all of this out because we were the dominant species on Planet Earth (I blame Ayn Rand a bit for that reasoning). Luckily these things are things I don't (and wouldn't) do anymore.

And pretty much all of that has to do with my wife. Samantha, through years of re-training and bulletproof reasoning, has helped me reform my thinking into something approximating more of a Hippocratic ideal: First, do no harm. What does that mean? Only that I have become the kind of person who thinks before doing things (or saying them) a little bit more than I did before. And if I can't make the absolute "best" decision under the circumstances, I can at least strive for one that doesn't actively harm the environment. Through lots of spirited debate, Sam has helped me realize that the small things people do in the course of their day-to-day life are the things that pile up and create problems for the Earth…or they are the things that accumulate into solutions. The choices are ours, each and every day. For example: we decide to eat that hamburger, knowing that it took hundreds of gallons of water to produce and that the farm that grew it did irreparable damage to its ecosystem and that untold gallons of petroleum were used to sustain and transport it. We decide to use products that perpetuate the palm oil industry, we decide to use straws and bags that end up in the ocean, we decide to drive when we could ride our bikes or walk…

Or…we decide not to do these things. That's the secret, Dear Reader: encouraging enough people to make the right decision, even if it is just a little bit more. Just one more good decision every day. Just one more thought to the environment. Just one more decision that does no harm.

These days, I can at least say I am an activist, a conservationist, and and environmentalist by association. It's a start. Somewhere along the line I realized that part of just being a good person is being a person who at least tries to make the right decision when it is possible. I don't have to be the best, or great - I just have to try to be good.

It's not even that hard. I should have done it years ago.


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