I was listening to Robert Palmer’s version of Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” from the early ‘90s recently, taking note of the scourges Gaye wrote about in 1972 — air pollution, oil spills, fish full of mercury. These issues don’t always take center stage nowadays, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been solved. If anything, we’ve added more ills to the litany, and often, it feels like there’s no way out of our shortsighted, disposable mess.
Maybe equally as discouraging as numbering our environmental problems is finding out some of your efforts to live a greener life may be for naught. An opinion piece by Nathaniel Popkin in the March 3 edition of the Philadelphia Sunday Inquirer titled “The Frustrating Charade of Recycling in Philadelphia” details the care he takes in washing and sorting his family’s recyclables, only to learn that Philadelphia only recycles half of them right now and incinerates the rest. Like Popkin, I’m still sticking to my routine of rinsing, sorting and removing labels, but hoping for what? Validation, I guess.
But I don’t want to stray too far down Negativity Street. There have been huge environmental strides made since the first Earth Day 49 years ago. Even if the original intention was for it to be a one-off, the huge response and movements that grew from that day made lots of people realize the need to incorporate environmental stewardship into our lives.
So here’s to those who make conscious choices every day to leave less of a trace: the bikers and public transportation regulars, the plants-only eaters, the Terracyclers, the shoppers who stick with the reusable bag routine (that practice isn’t limited to the Co-op, as you may know). And there are so many doing so much more.
It’s easy (and inevitable) at times to get discouraged and overwhelmed at what we’re facing, and equally easy to wag our fingers at those who “aren’t doing it right.” For me, it’s about keeping up with greener routines and expanding on them, maybe even moving toward activism. It’s an antidote to helplessness, a concrete way to stay engaged and conscious. Or, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “Whatever you do may seem insignificant to you, but it is most important that you do it.”
Catch you in the pages next month.