Are We Environmentally Challenged?
Global warming has produced a nation of phony reformists. People think they’re doing the work that will help mitigate climate change, but don’t think about it long enough to realize it’s not working. Not only have the severe temperatures in the last couple of years been destructive, but the prospect of global warming has created a moral dilemma for those who hate the weather but can’t seem to actually do anything about it.
I recently checked a woman’s canvas bag at work. She handed me a bag imprinted with the words “I don’t use plastic bags,” and then handed me a bunch of plastic shopping bags. Global warming has made innocent people buy into a load of bullshit. How about a more truthful bag, one that proclaims, “I often use plastic bags”?
Scientists — from those who believe in global warming to those who don’t — agree that a couple years of extreme weather doesn’t constitute a legitimate case for a change in climate. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, the weather is just what’s happening outside at any given moment while climate is the summary of weather over a long period of time. Only after many years of pattern analysis can a real change in climate be determined.
Ever since I’ve had a phone that tells me all the answers to anything I might need to know, I’ve woken up every morning prepared for the disappointment of the weather report before I even prepare my coffee. After I turn off my alarm on my phone I click on the weather button (that misleading icon of a sun and 73 degrees) and then moan because, no matter if it’s sun or snow, it’s going to be extreme.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2010 was the wettest year ever. And it tied with 2005 as the hottest. I’m going to go ahead and say that global warming is real. It’s a pain, it’s all our fault, and yet I can’t stop contributing to the burden. All I can do is look at the forecast and huff.
When I was a freshman, I made it my business to reduce my carbon footprint. I drank coffee out of jars. I taped photographs of infinite miles of trash by Chris Jordan in my dorm room above our garbage can to get my roommates to buy less stuff. I once spoke at a recycled fashion show with a preacher’s passion. “Fellow citizens, I implore you to join me in the green revolution!” I talked about how one person’s efforts are nothing without everyone else’s, and therefore everyone else should get it together. As fervently as I bragged about my eco-friendly beliefs, something in my little green heart started to fade. Nothing I did was making a difference. Not a difference that I could see, anyway.
These days I’m an environmental heretic. I changed majors from Environmental Studies to Visual Arts. I can’t buy enough plastic Perrier bottles. I take out my food instead of eating in the restaurant, thereby skipping out on the 20 percent. Every week, my garbage overflows with wine bottles. And even though I spend all day contributing to the trash, the energy inefficiency and the self-destructive apathy that worsens global warming, I can’t stop complaining about sweaty summers and toe-numbing winters.
The heroes in this fight are those strong enough to devote themselves to something they can’t measure. By the time the work of the hardcore environmentalists pays off, the environmentalists will be dead. Lifestyle changes aren’t going to make a visible difference in our lifetime, if ever. These activists have patience, which is something most of us lack.
We’re a nation of checkers. But we can’t check how effective our environmental efforts are. We spend billions on devices that allow us to check things all the time: the weather, Facebook, the stock exchange. I don’t know what some environmentalists have in them that lets them be so patient, but I imagine it’s fiery conviction. In order to change their lives by reducing their carbon footprint, they must believe that one day, whether or not they witness it, their grandchildren will live in a world where it snows in the Arctic, not in Atlanta.
The misled “green” activists and discouraged, inactive people like me must recognize that environmental work results in intangible, immeasurable ways. Decisions of how we live, what we buy and what we don’t buy, will have to be made with faith in unseen, future results, and not because of a craving for bubbly water.