This I Believe

Deb - South Bend, Indiana
Entered on June 10, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

My family harangues me mercilessly about my environmentalism. I bring canvas bags to the grocery, buy local and organic foods, and recycle semi-fanatically. I even blow my nose into tissues made from recycled paper. My family sees these behaviors as borderline crazy, but I believe small thoughtful actions matter.

Four years ago, my sister bought me 100 paper plates for Christmas as a joke. We use “real dishes” in my household, even if we are just making toast. I used the last of those paper plates just recently . . . and, of course, then recycled it.

I cannot eliminate my impact on the environment, but I can minimize that impact. I buy soda in cans, because plastic bottles can be recycled only once. Aluminum can be recycled almost indefinitely. I purchase toilet paper and paper towels made of recycled materials. I choose detergent of all natural ingredients rather than cheap laundry soap that is essentially a petroleum product.

My family often points out the “environmental contradictions” of my life. Admittedly, I am not perfect. I drive my car to work, rather than taking the bus. I have an addiction to coffee from a certain Seattle-based beanery and rarely remember to bring my own cup. I also enjoy the smell of newsprint on Sunday morning when I could get the latest news from the internet or one of the ever abundant 24-hour news channels on cable.

A friend once equated the impact of my recycling efforts to a grain of sand in the ocean. He was right, of course, but I retorted that, if everyone recycled, the grains of sand would be equivalent to a desert.

It is easy to become overwhelmed by the environmental problems facing humanity. The United Nations has documented that economic and political upheaval and even genocide are frequently the products of environmental degradation. What effect could I possibly have on such extraordinary global problems?

For a long time, that question paralyzed me into inaction . . . Then one day, it occurred to me that a grain of sand is the seed that makes a pearl. When sand enters a mussel or oyster, the animal coats the irritant with a substance called nacre, which accumulates over time to form a pearl. Similarly, the solutions to our environmental problems will not be instantaneous. Addressing the ill-health of our planet and developing the strategies to reduce, reverse or remediate the effects of pollution and global warming will require patient endurance.

The next time someone teases me about my canvas bags at the grocery store or otherwise challenges me about the “environmental contradictions” of my life, I will simply smile. I do not have to be perfect to make a difference. I believe that the accumulation of my small thoughtful actions – and the actions of many others – matter and will eventually result in something priceless. This I believe.