When I was in 5th grade I started a club. Inspired by the now iconic anti-litter commercial (the one with the crying Native American), every month or so I, and 3 or 4 other little girls, would walk along side of the highway and pick up trash for an hour. When we were done we went to Dairy Queen for ice cream and to strategize about how to save the world. At the end of the school year my 5th grade teacher wrote out her predictions for where her students would be in 20 years. She put a name to my concerns about the planet, saying I would become an environmentalist. And so I did, in a roundabout way.
After getting my master’s degree in Anthropology (archaeology) I ended up working for an environmental firm doing archaeological surveys to support environmental impact studies of proposed construction projects. I worked my way up to project, then program manager, overseeing studies relating to air and noise pollution, impact to endangered species, and traffic issues in addition to the potential destruction of archaeological resources. During this time I read and researched and kept abreast of scientific discoveries and issues. My concern for the environment grew.
After the upheaval of the Great Recession and subsequent changes in our lives, in my new profession as a science teacher I continued to monitor the environmental news and to talk to my students about the health of the planet. It isn’t good. I could quote numerous studies and statistics but you can easily check for yourself. Sea levels are rising, ice sheets and forests are diminishing, coral reefs are dying, pesticides are killing pollinators, the ocean is filling up with plastic and becoming more acidic, regulations protecting the environment are being rolled back and the population is increasing.
As I check out customers in the grocery store I watch the conveniently packaged individual serving-sized items, all tucked hygienically in their plastic containers, travel down the belt to be stuffed into plastic bags and I know that almost all that plastic will end up in landfills, and rivers and the ocean, and your bottled drinking water. When a customer complains that we are out of ‘grass-fed ghee’ I can’t help but think that we’ve all become too entitled. The store I work at is huge and we have an enormous selection of products in all their vegan, gluten-free, pasture-raised, organic, non-gmo, whole grain, grain-free, bacon-flavored, vapor-distilled glory.
We have fruits and vegetables that aren’t in season within a thousand miles from the store and flowers that don’t exist in nature. I hope everyone is really enjoying all this bounty because I’m pretty sure it’s at the expense of future generations.
I get depressed when I think about the state of the planet, and the future that awaits my children and their offspring. I belong to forums of like minded environmentally aware folk and we agree that the burden can be overwhelming. They have different ways of dealing with it – spending time with friends and family, enjoying the outdoors as much as possible, taking pleasure in simple things. I find it less easy to escape the feeling of uselessness in my life.
It has been a long time since I’ve felt hopeful and optimistic. Perhaps a decade. I’ve been pushing forward all this time because it’s the only thing I can do but it’s clear to me that I will never regain the ground I’ve lost and I’m tired. I realize that the ongoing health issues I’m dealing with are partly to blame for my discouragement. It’s stressful and it makes me anxious. And there are just too many problems and too much work and not enough sleep or money. I wish I thought that would change.