Continuing on my journey to radical environmentalism
I can’t quite remember the moment when I became radicalized about protecting the environment and the planet, but it happened last year. That’s late in life, I know. At 49 years old, it is very possible and even likely that I have more years behind me than in front of me, but that is when it happened.
Before that, I didn’t do more than was required by law.
I have lived in New York City since 1994. Mandatory recycling was phased in citywide by 1997. So, I recycled what was required.
Five years ago, when my last two children went away to college, I got rid of my car, but not for environmental reasons. I just didn’t need it anymore, and it was expensive to maintain.
But something happened to me last year.
Maybe it was Greta Thunberg’s advocacy, and hearing her impassioned United Nations speech in which she blasted world leaders, saying: for a thousand years. I immediately bought reusable shopping bags, stopped buying plastic storage bags, bought biodegradable garbage bags, and found places that would recycle the few plastic bags I had.
But the whole thing made me think about how heavy my carbon footprint and environmental impact are now, and how different that was from the way I grew up.
As a child, my family had a tiny environmental impact, in part because we were poor. Most of our food came from our own property: no shipment emission, no packaging, no pesticides.
My mother planted two truck patch gardens where we grew corn, leafy greens, potatoes, tomatoes, okra and melons. We raised our own food animals for protein, each year buying a couple of hogs and a cow.
Poor people were the original recyclers before recycling was the norm. Waste was for the wealthy. For that reason we had little trash. When I thought about that in the context of the outrageous amount of trash my family and I now produce, I felt ashamed.
So I decided to not only reduce my trash production, but also to dramatically reduce my first use of even things that can be recycled. Not only does the production of those products in the first instance consume energy, recycling them also uses energy. Beyond that, you cannot be assured that what you put on the curb to be recycled actually will be.
None of this is to position myself as a perfect example of an environmentalist, but rather to demonstrate to people like me who read this column that it is never too late to start trying, that every small effort matters, and that you can do it in communities of late-reformers like me.
My journey to radical environmentalism is not complete. To the contrary, it’s just beginning. I think that the only way to prevent the radical alteration of our planet is to commit to a radical alteration of our own behavior.