being green, uneasy

Perhaps I was ahead of the curve. From the moment Mrs. Pickup taught us the correct pronunciation of “chlorofluorocarbon” in sixth grade science class, thinking about the environment became second nature, much to the annoyance of my mother, who thinly tolerated my tedious inspection of each piece of plastic for recycleability, or my need to turn the water off between each dish to be washed. I stopped at flushing only #2s in the bathroom, but I thought about it.

Now that my concerns have finally risen to front-page news and we find ourselves at a tipping point within the next 10 years, I find myself looking for new challenges. I keep a stash of plastic bags in my purse, so that when I’m buying something at a store, I won’t acquire another one and can reuse what I have. I sorted through that mountain of bags, and broke them down by size, so that I can use them for lunches, shopping, or the various trash cans in my apartment. I delight in finding multi-packs of incandescent compact fluorescent light bulbs at IKEA. By walking to and from work, I don’t emit — unless I have a burrito for lunch.I read up on the latest in green trends and my concerns extend to the pollutants in my own body; I switch from antiperspirant to deodorant and wonder if I should replace my water bottle — the reusable nalgene I use instead of disposable bottled water — with an aluminum one, to keep toxins from leeching into what I drink.

I consider noble purchases like a Feed Bag but wonder if the benefits are outweighed by the excess packaging and emissions required to deliver the item to me (I’m sure the children getting the free school lunches would have something to say about that).

I walk around my neighborhood over moving weekend and step over piles of discarded furniture, appliances, books, etc, on each curb. When I pass by again, the pile gets a little smaller. One man’s trash becomes another’s treasure. Every week, the same curbs are loaded with cheerful recycling bins and trash cans labeled for yard waste. My neighborhood seems to be on board, and I think maybe we can beat this thing before time runs out.

But then I remember Nicaragua as seen from my tour bus window while a tour guide described how Nicaraguans were steadily carving out an economy for themselves after so much political turmoil. He spoke proudly as we passed roadsides strewn with garbage: innumerable plastic bags and bottles of every color. From my cushy perch in my Cambridge treehouse, I have time to think about eco-friendly living — and even buy free-trade coffee from Nicaragua — but what about the rest of the world?

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