The United Nations hosted meetings last week devoted to the environment.  As usual, politicians, celebrities, and celebrity politicians urged action, the largest countries obfuscated, or worse, and nothing meaningful occurred.  Among the speakers was the now-famous 16-year-old from Sweden, Greta, who lambasted the “adults in the room” for their failures.  Until recently, I found Greta’s lack of nuance and diplomacy somewhat off-putting.  I preferred a more mature, polished and politically correct presentation of the need for action.  Al Gore, for instance.  Now, I conclude:  “Greta is right.”



My personal introduction to environmental activism arose in 8th grade (1970) when my school commenced a newspaper-recycling program.  Actually, to call it a “program” overstates reality.  A box marked “paper” was placed next to a dumpster in an obscure, far-off corner of the faculty parking lot.  If a person were self-motivated to gather newspapers, and able in turn to convince their carpool-driving parent(s) to detour to the box, a tiny contribution to the world’s salvation could be achieved.

I recall being fairly diligent collecting the papers and both my parents cooperated.  The activity satisfied my desire to “do something” but didn’t go further.  My only other environmental impulse from the teenage years was to object to my mother or sister’s tendency to want to take a walk and to then drive thirty minutes to do so.  The “drive to a walk” concept always bothered me as vaguely “defeating the purpose.”  However, I didn’t know what the “purpose” might be.  Concepts like wasting gas or creating emissions had not occurred to me.  Compared to many teens, I just wasn’t excited by driving.


For most of the intervening years until 2000, environmental destruction remained, for me, vaguely disturbing.  Of course, I supported “conservation” and even made the occasional contributions to the Sierra Club or World Wildlife Fund.  They sent me t-shirts and calendars in return.  But I certainly didn’t expect climate changes to occur in my lifetime.

Now that I’m a grandfather I look at the world differently.  I not only concern myself with the several decades I might still experience but the six or eight or ten that my grandchildren can anticipate.  Yet, if I only view my own lifespan, there are shocking changes taking place.  Without recounting all their now-famous names, it is common to see a “500-year hurricane” or “1,000-year flood” on an annual basis.  Fifteen of the eighteen warmest years on record have occurred since 2000.  While not being so naïve as to confuse short-term weather with long-term climate, on an emotional basis I am alarmed to look at a thermometer on September 26 and see it is 93 degrees.  It’s been too hot all summer to play tennis outside.  While such an example seems trivial, the warming climate is actually affecting daily life!


As recently as 1999 I bought a car that obtained a wasteful 19 MPG without a pang of conscience.    But as the new millennium proceeded I began to question my daily lifestyle a little more.  My recycling efforts were increasingly diligent.  To the dismay of my children I became fanatical about “turning off the lights.”  Admittedly, my motivation was partially economic, but I also turned off unnecessary lights at work, where I did not pay the electric bill.

“An Inconvenient Truth” struck a chord in 2007, right around the time I also saw “March of the Penguins.” Between the two documentaries, I recognized mankind is blithely ruining the earth not only for our selves, and future generations, but also for every other creature.  Most infuriating to me, a huge segment of society, including one of our two political parties and their media shills, are actively discouraging improvements.  They are overturning long-established clean air and clean water policies that were originally signed by President Nixon!  Doesn’t everyone breathe air and drink water?  Don’t people throughout the political spectrum have children and grandchildren and/or concern about nature?


I took my first concrete action shortly thereafter when I traded in my gas-guzzler for a hybrid.  Sad to say, the salesman didn’t know how to turn on the silent car and in his embarrassment encouraged me to buy something more conventional, something cheaper.  Can you imagine a car salesman discouraging a ready and willing buyer?

I found it immensely satisfying to leap from 19 MPG to 40 and wondered what else I could do.  In 2011, I added solar panels to the roof, thus cutting our coal powered electric use in half.  Every day, in the beginning, I raced to the computer to see how much the sun had produced.  Now, eight years later, and in a different home, to which we also added solar panels, it’s still satisfying.  In a small way it helps with the problem, it saves money, and in a more spiritual way, I enjoy being conscious of the power of the sun.



These days, my efforts  (with the full cooperation/endorsement of my wife, Katie) have moved towards the obvious (refusing straws and plastic bottles) and the slightly less obvious, such as:  bringing our own re-useable take-out containers to restaurants and our own utensils if we know they only offer plastic.  We are fanatical about using our own bags at stores and even our HANDS when we buy just a few items.  It’s amazing how confused and even offended some cashiers appear when we refuse their offer of a plastic bag.  We’ve nearly cut out red meat from our diet, which is another win-win; less meat consumption leads to less abuse of the earth via methane releases and land-use, and is almost certain to be healthier for us.



Friends have reacted to our behavior in a variety of ways.  Some appear not to notice.  A few congratulate us for our efforts and say they are inspired to emulate us.  The majority, however, fall somewhere in between.  They would vaguely like to “change a few things” and “help out” but state:  “It’s just so hard to remember to bring my own bags.  I can’t be bothered.”  With a few exceptions, none have purchased a more efficient car with the environment in mind or purchased solar panels.

Until recently, my response to those who spurn re-usable bags by saying: “it’s too much trouble,” or, “it’s too difficult to remember” formed from the empathetic, compassionate part of my brain.  I nodded and said: “I understand.”  But now my thoughts (if not yet my spoken response) arises from somewhere more primitive.  “Come on, people.  It’s not difficult.  You are not a moron.  You can really put a few in your car and remember to use them.  DO SOMETHING!”


I read the foregoing with a sinking feeling some will view me as self-righteous.  That exemplar of moral clarity, Dick Cheney, once dismissed energy-saving efforts as matters of “personal virtue,” an unnecessary indulgence.  To that, I can only ask: “What is wrong with righteousness?  What is wrong with a little virtue?”  It’s available to everyone.  For free.

Greta feels the situation is urgent.  I agree with her, both from a practical viewpoint and a moral viewpoint.  The aforementioned Dick Cheney, in fraudulently pushing our nation into the second Iraq war, once argued:  “If there’s just a one percent chance Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, we have to do something and do it soon.”   With regard to the changes mankind is wreaking upon the earth and its climate, unless we change course immediately, does anyone doubt there is more than a one percent chance it will end in catastrophe?