Despite what a certain frog once said, today it’s not very hard to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle. Walmart sells organic food, LED lightbulbs are shelved with incandescent ones at hardware stores, and it’s as easy to find a recycling bin as it is to find a trash can in some areas. Actually, almost everything you need probably comes in an “eco-friendly” or “green” version. A quick search on Amazon for “eco-friendly” generated over 200,000 different items.
But wait, is it really that simple? Is all it takes to make a difference in the world to go out and buy one of these “eco” products? Maybe not. Common sense tells us that everything we buy comes in a package of some sort. That’s wasted material right there. “But wait!” you say. “I recycle! And I use re-usable bags when I shop at the grocery store! I AM making a difference!”
At least, that’s what we’ve been told it will take to save the world. Just look at the childhood classic The Lorax.
The premise is pretty simple. You can watch the clip there (there’s a link to the second part) but the idea is this: Once-ler develops a new product, a “th-need” from the tufts of the Truffula tree. Everybody wants a th-need. Demand for the Once-ler’s product goes up, so he increases production. The Lorax, the guardian of the trees, tries to warn him that he’s killing the Earth, but the Once-ler doesn’t listen. This continues until there are no Truffula trees left, everything is dirty and polluted, and the Once-ler is out of business. In the end, he entrusts the last Truffla seed to a young boy, telling him to take care of it, help it grow, and restore everything to how it was.
I LOVED The Lorax when I was growing up. Heck, I still love it as a semi-hippie. But is that really the lesson we want to be teaching?
Michael Maniates writes extensively on this topic. His paper Individualization: Plant a Tree, Buy a Bike, Save the World? looks at these issues in-depth, focusing on The Lorax as a case study for how our society views environmentalism. Basically, his point is: people want to individualize the problem of environmental damage and repair, so they like to focus on things that they can do as individuals (like planting a tree or riding a bike) and avoid working to solve these problems as a society. Maniates argues, though, that we need to use societal means to solving this problem. He advocates working for government and community reform. It’s sort of like Captain Planet (yes, I am reliving my childhood as I write this). The kids need to work together to summon Captain Planet so they can save the world, and they can’t do it by themselves, or even with two or three of them. They needed everybody to be able to save the day.
Maniates isn’t trying to say you shouldn’t do those individual things. Neither am I. I recycle, walk almost everywhere I go, take reusable grocery bags with me shopping, and turn the lights off when I leave my room. These are all great things to do. But the point is, without changes on a large-scale, even if everybody was doing these individual things, environmental damage would still happen.
There are several ways to influence the direction the government takes. Although it sometimes seems like Congress is only dealing with whatever issue is in the news that week, in truth, there are discussions about almost everything on the agenda every day. One of the best ways to be heard is to write to your Congressmen (or women) and tell them what you think. Here you can find out who your representative in the House, as well as how to contact them, and you can do the same thing for the Senate here. Both the House and Senate websites also have places you can find out what’s going to be voted on in the next week or so, which is usually a good time to write in about specific issues or concerns you might have.
You can also get involved on a state or local level, by talking to your local representatives. This could be a little harder to find, but you can often forge a personal relationship with the person you’re talking to, and as they are responsible for a smaller area, change can sometimes happen faster.
Whatever you choose to do, remember that the environment isn’t going to get better without you, but the problems are too big for one person to solve. (Unless it’s Captain Planet).