As per my New Years resolutions, I haven't taken a single bag from a store all year, instead bringing my own reusable cloth ones. It's been super easy so I'm not even going to brag about it. I just want to encourage you to try it too! Once you just say "NO" to the extra bags, it becomes so much easier to remember your own. If I get to the grocery store and realize I've forgotten to bring a bag, I can't buy anything more than I can carry. It's that simple. And actually, I've found it a lot easier to go cold tofurkey on the whole thing than to do it only once every so often.
Lest I start feeling too virtuous and full of myself, I'm looking for another year-long challenge to add to this one. Any ideas? I'd love to hear!
Looks like my younger brother would make a great and ferocious riverkeeper, as well.
Sometimes it's easy to get overwhelmed with the magnitude of the global environmental problems. For me at least, I find that I often get discouraged and let the great be the enemy of the good, so to speak. For example, I can't solve global warming by myself, so why not hop in the car and drive to dinner rather than walk? Everyone else is doing it... why can't I?
But let's be real, that mentality sucks. If nobody felt that way, our problems might not be gone but they would be a whole lot better. So if you get discouraged by the state of global affairs (and this goes for any cause about which you are passionate: education! health! politics! inequality!), think about what you can do locally. I'm trying to teach myself to take specific and measurable steps to make a difference rather than letting the scale of worldwide problems get me down.
This is exemplified by the Delaware Riverkeeper, whom I was lucky enough to attend a presentation by this week. The concept of the Delaware Riverkeeper is simple: one person is appointed "Keeper" of the Delaware River and is charged with acting as the voice of the river. The current Keeper is Maya van Rossum; she makes sure that the best interests of the river (and by extension, the plants, animals, and people around it) are represented in the political sphere. The staff does a lot of really interesting and valuable work, and I urge you to check it out. I think the concept of a person acting as a "voice" for the environment is really cool. And this is a great example of the benefits of acting locally: the organization doesn't profess to want to protect all of the waterways in all of the world, which is a crazy, impossible, and overwhelming goal. For now, protecting home is good enough.
Also, this means acknowledging the difference between "good crazy" and "bad crazy" goals. Know what I mean?
The Delaware: industrial complex or healthy habitat?
Recently I've had the chance to learn and think a lot about the Delaware River, in whose watershed Philadelphia lies. Here are some thoughts I found interesting.
The Delaware River is home to shad, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, weakfish, spot, walleye, lamprey eels, river herring, shortnose sturgeon, loggerhead turtles, leatherback turtles, osprey, bald eagle, Cooper's Hawk, barred owl, bobolink, upland sandpiper, and pileated woodpecker, many of which species are endangered. It is home to the world's largest horseshoe crab population, a species which has been around for 450 million years and which on Delaware provides the only food source to this cool bird on its migration. We either ignore or actively harvest most of these species.
The Delaware is used for drinking water, sewage dumping, nuclear cooling, commercial fishing, commercial traffic, and industrial waste disposal. In the last decade the army attempted to dump nerve gas there. Nerve gas. Seriously?
Anyway, I could sum this all up in a neat little package but that would be preachy and I really have no right to be preachy, seeing as I took a 10-minute shower this morning in water that most likely came from and will return to the Delaware. Just the quickest of quick thoughts: we kind of act like we're the only species that relies on the Delaware. Yet is one species worth more than a hundred? In a sense, is all of this human activity worth it? Are commercial fisheries and tankers and barges and bridges and waste dumps and industrial chemicals what we want? Do we want an industrial river that is technically "useful" to us or would we rather one that allows us to coexist peacefully and healthfully with all of the Delaware's original inhabitants?
Sorry not sorry for those extremely leading questions. Sometimes I can't help but get carried away. I think I just inspired myself to take a shorter shower tomorrow, though.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced last week a 20-year-ban on new uranium mining claims near the Grand Canyon, giving the National Park a million-acre-buffer zone. I think this is really interesting for a couple of reasons.
First, it gives the park and the animals within it a more flexible border, acknowledging that wilderness doesn't just stop abruptly at the official border between the national park and the not-officially-designated-as-national-park-land-but-still-worthy-of-protection areas around it. It also acknowledges that yeah, national parks are reserved for the best interests of the public, not the mining lobby. Bureau of Land Management, I'm talkin to you.
Second, 20 years is a long time! It will be 2032 before the ban runs out. Often, environmental victories are short-lived and have to be fought year after year, again and again. Development interests only have to win once. But to keep a wilderness area protected is even harder, because every single challenge must be won or the wilderness area will be gone in the blink of an eye. It's better to have a conversation about prevention than about restoration and "where we went wrong," right?
Third, Sierra Club and other organizations are celebrating the victory. And I agree that the announcement is good news. Thanks, Ken Salazar. Yet the ban is only on new miningclaims. Eleven existing uranium mines will still exist and be allowed to operate, mostly left over from the Bush Administration. In America, our two-party system creates a pendulum of policies: back and forth from right to left, conservative to liberal. This pendulum allows each side to participate in the Presidency. Yet, the pendulum of opposing policies is pretty terrible for the environment. I think in America we need a cohesive, enduring, bigger-than-petty-politics recognition that the environment is important, an idea that will remain constant no matter who is in power at the time. Have you been watching the Republican debates? I think those guys would overturn the ban in a heartbeat. Just a thought.
And a fourth thought, if you're interested in reading the arguments given in favor of the ban. Economics, jobs, tourism, drinking water. Why must all environmental benefits be measured in terms of human benefits for us to accept them? I'm happy and I don't mean to complain, but these things are worth thinking about. And I'd love to hear what you think.
Image from NPS's photostream. And yes, I picked practically the most idealistic image possible.