August 5, 2008

Support your local planet

By Janisse Ray

Many times I have attended some gathering or other, and after the speeches are done and the final questions debated, refreshments are brought out and served on plastic plates and in plastic cups.

I cannot tell you what a horrible feeling I have.

I am especially aghast if the event is one that discusses environmental issues.

Around me every day I see an interesting phenomenon. Even people who understand that plastic lasts forever accept their purchases in plastic bags. People who realize that the climate crisis means more hurricanes are caught idling their vehicles.

People who want to save our national forests still buy paper that is not recycled.

There is often a great gulf between what we know to be true and what we practice. This phenomenon worries me as much as the environmental problems themselves.

A friend and I stop at a roadside stand to buy blueberries. The cashier offers a plastic bag and my friend accepts it. The minute we get to the car, she removes the blueberries from the bag and we start to eat them. I am brought face to face with a plastic bag whose lifespan is less than five minutes but that will last for thousands of years in a landfill.

I am not a perfect environmentalist. We cut trees to heat our home. We drive vehicles that use fossil fuels. Our home is run by electricity which is, in part, produced by nuclear energy.

But every day I try to make decision based on what I know: that the earth needs us to be thinking about it.

When I am invited somewhere to speak, I ask the organizer to produce an environment-friendly event:

1. Use paper instead of plastic. If possible, real flatware and dinnerware.

2. No Styrofoam

3. Recycled paper in filers and press releases

4. Local businesses provide services.

5. Locally grown and organic food for receptions.

6. Put out recycling as well as trash bins.

7. Encourage carpooling.

One of the most inspiring receptions I've attended was at the public library in Covington, Georgia. The Montessori School of Covington sponsored the event. There were no cheese sticks, no store-bought cookies. The table held bowls of cherry tomatoes and carrot sticks -- most of it grown by local gardeners -- served on porcelain saucers. Napkins were cloth, rewashable. The group set a goal of Zero Waste and met it.

At a reading in Tifton, the organizer used real coffee cups. She has collected dozens that her church uses in their socials.

We have to practice what we know to be true. We have to weigh every single decision we make.

We have to accept the solutions to our environmental problems are personal and start applying them every day in whatever we do. We have to show that life can be lived differently, without so much destruction, and that the reimagined life can be beautiful and full of rewards none of us expected.

Janisse Ray teaches nature writing in a low-residency program at Chatham University. She lives in Baxley, Georgia.