Confessions of an Environmentalist

Last week, the New Times Style Section had a great article on the steps that suburbanites are taking to adopt green power, get kids to walk or ride their bikes to school safely, and reduce the impact of those perfect green lawns. It got me to thinking of what I have been able to do to become greener in my own life and how far I have to go.  A few years ago, my daughter had to put yellow Post-It notes above our light switches to remind us all to turn off the lights when we left the room. They are still there! A decade ago, my family drove an SUV--at the time, it seemed like the best way to haul around our family of five, the dogs, and the carpool. When I am traveling, I confess I occasionally buy water in plastic bottles. I’m happy that I can take the train to work--no need to drive in New York City, but I’d hate to tell you how much I fly. It never sits right with me when I realize that my actions--even small ones--have a negative impact on the Earth. But in the 35 years I have been working to protect the environment, I have come to believe that the first step for all of us is participation.  It’s the idea that small steps taken by many people can have an enormous impact. If we limited our movement to those who lived off the grid and exploited the least amount of natural resources possible, it would be a small movement indeed.  People often ask me what they can do to protect the Earth. Being a policy wonk, my first recommendation is to use the power of your vote to push for stronger safeguards for our air, water, atmosphere, and wildlands.   But there are also many Earth friendly choices we can all make in our own lives. Whether it is bringing a cloth bag to the grocery store or persuading our children’s school to pass a no-idling rule during drop off, we can begin walking down a path that leads to deep environmental commitment. I’m fascinated at how quickly the news about the waste caused by plastic water bottles has caught on, or how about those plastic bags from the grocery store. That tells me how receptive people are to making change, once they know what the impacts of one action is over another.   When people ask me what I do in my own life to approach a greener life style, here are three things I mention.  

  1. I bought a Prius when it first came out. I have never felt this way about a car before, but I absolutely love it. I know that every time I drive down the street, I am an advertisement for efficiency, clean energy, and global warming solutions. The other day, I took out my tire gauge and found out my tires were 15 pounds fatter than they should be. When I adjusted them, I got 7 more miles to the gallon. It’s my very own demonstration project. 


  1. I switched to compact florescent light bulbs, first in the lamps, then in the overheads--one step at a time. These bulbs use about 80 percent less electricity than classic incandescents, and they last as long as 10 years. Now if I forget to turn off the lights, at least I know my lamps are using minimal amounts of energy.


  1. I buy local produce whenever I can. And if not local, then organic. I am lucky. My office is around the corner from one of the finest farmers’ markets in the nation: the Union Square Green Market. It is open four days a week and offers great choices throughout the year. I can’t always make my purchases here, but I know when I do, I am using my consumer power to say no to harmful pesticides and yes to local agriculture that doesn’t burn loads of greenhouse gases on its way to my table. Find out how you can eat local here.