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Earth day 2010: how to make a difference

April 21, 2010

Earth day makes me a bit anxious. On the one hand, it’s one of the best days of the year — people are out in full force cleaning up discarded trash, enjoying ‘green’ festivals showcasing all kinds of sustainable products and perhaps even going home and changing a lightbulb.

And yet I can’t help but think to myself, why does being good to the environment all rest on this one day? What if it rains? Will people forgo their clean-up efforts? And then there’s my personal dilemma: WHAT do I do, and how do I choose between all the different scheduled activities? Do I engage with other volunteers in a large effort or simply walk out my door, trash bag in hand and become a steward of my own neighborhood by cleaning that up?


I’m still not sure. For now, I look to some of the people that I admire. Michael Pollan is one of those people, and this year, I wanted to share with you one of the most compelling arguments for why we should “bother” in an op-ed published in the New York Times Magazine in 2008. So here it is, as always, eloquent and thoughtful:

Michael Pollan’s Why Bother?

Okay, are you done reading that? Ready to plant a garden? Me too. I told you, he’s convincing.

Here are a few of my favorite points from Pollan’s op-ed:

The Big Problem is nothing more or less than the sum total of countless little everyday choices, most of them made by us (consumer spending represents 70 percent of our economy), and most of the rest of them made in the name of our needs and desires and preferences.

Just take a moment to think about the decisions each of us make on a daily basis — everything from what you put in your grocery cart, to whether you wash your clothes with warm water. Think about the power you hold in each purchase, the power of the consumer.

If you do bother, you will set an example for other people.

When you’re making those consumer choices and those lifestyle choices, try not to look to your neighbor to see what they’re doing. Set an example and people will look to you. Change always starts with one brave person.

Sometimes you have to act as if acting will make a difference, even when you can’t prove that it will.

So what if somewhere in China, or India, or Brazil someone is un-doing the good you are doing — you have to do what you can, and that’s the only place we can hope to start.

reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness

I think this is one of my favorite points of Pollan’s. We currently depend so much on systems instead of individuals. If you think about it though, the power is actually in our hands. Corporations respond to consumers. (Really! check out my post on carrotmob to see this in action).

We are shaping the world — so do what you can this earth day, but think about doing it Friday, too. And next month. And for the next year. And soon, maybe others will catch on and people won’t even need reasons to “bother”, earth day will be every day.

photo via flickr user nasa1fan/MSFC

One Comment leave one →
  1. judistringbean permalink
    April 23, 2010 5:10 pm

    Nicely done! Modeling for others can make you the epicenter of change. Picture yourself the raindrop that sets off ring and ring of movement. We can make a difference, at least for ourselves. To make us feel empowered by an overwhelming environmental situation.

    Thanks for your compelling work that has created many interesting conversations with friends and family.

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