This post has been nudging me for a while. I’ve dragged my feet because it feels like I’m tooting my horn. But I finally realized there’s a point to the post — plus the interior nudging has become annoying 🙂 It started writing itself in my head a while ago when reading some posts by (to me) very young people who are very jazzed about environmental issues.
As I did at their age, they’re proselytizing and admonishing and assuming the rest of us aren’t doing our part. I get it. I did it in my twenties too. You see, I have a pretty long history regarding environmental stuff. And I realized I don’t talk about it. I don’t think anyone who knows me knows the whole list below. Some long time friends know big parts of it, but no one knows it all:
- I first became interested in environmental issues in high school in the late sixties, especially clean water concerns.
- Because of that interest I took Environmental Biology my freshman year at Northwestern.
- When I got an apartment my junior year, my roommate and I became avid recyclers. In those days you had to take it all to a recycling place. There were bins with three cement walls around them. Glass could be broken. So we thought up everybody and everything we were mad about and yelled and screamed and slammed all the glass into the walls of the glass bin. Fun. And environmentally helpful.
- When I moved to the Pacific Northwest I volunteered with the Oregon Environmental Council and later worked for a while for the Nature Conservancy. Then worked for Environmental Law, which at the time was the law review for Lewis and Clark Law School.
- When I first moved to Portland they were at the end of a drought so I learned a bunch of water conservation stuff that I’ve used ever since. (even though the drought ended and it rained pretty much the whole six years I spent in the PNW)
- During the Portland years I also studied up on environment-friendly housing and solar power. Marched for solar power. Marched against nuclear power.
- In Portland in those days you had to contract for your own garbage service. A local hippie collective had a service called Rainbow something that not only picked up garbage but many kinds of recycling (this was long before city recycling programs became the norm) and they included a compost bucket for kitchen scraps. I put out about half a bag of garbage every week and all the rest was recycling or compost for a community garden. In those days mostly hippies talked about the environment or altered their lives to support it. Everybody else thought we were nuts.
- Went to law school (Seattle) hoping to be an environmental warrior.
- Environmental warriors were thin on the ground–and jobs for them even thinner– when I got out of law school but I volunteered for Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI; a worthy donation to make) in Chicago and wound up almost exclusively working on nuclear power plant cases. At the time some of the last fights to keep plants from being licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission were being waged.
- The volunteering led to a job with a sister agency in the nuclear fight, Governor’s Office of Consumer Services. At least 95% of my work there was on nuclear plant rate cases; trying to keep most of the cost of the power plants out of the rate base. We won [I say we but most of my work rode on the backs of an incredible group of lawyers from different consumer groups who conceived the idea of going after the money when the effort to stop licensing by the NRC failed and brainstormed the way to do it] big enough that nine planned nuclear power plants have never been built in Illinois because the utilities could no longer get the whole cost into rate base.
- While I still worked for GOCS the Illinois Commerce Commission decided to redo a lot of the ICC rules — a rule-making. Initially there were no environmental provisions at all. A representative from the Office of Public Counsel and I became the Jiminy Crickets of environmental provisions. No one else wanted to talk about it. We brought it up at every meeting and hopped up and down over rules we wanted that required utilities to use renewable, sustainable energy sources whenever possible. Eyes rolled and jaws tightened, but we didn’t care. Our offices backed us up on refusing to sign without them. At the end of the rule-making a bunch of environmental provisions had been added. (There have probably been many changes since then; no idea whether those rules have been preserved)*
I still recycle and conserve water. Still dream of a house with solar power and other green considerations. But my proselytizing days are over. I rarely talk about the environment any more. I never talk about what I’ve done (till now 🙂 ). Now that list is just a list. Some other version of me did all that stuff. I no longer believe in the same solutions or even in thinking about it the same way.
The list of “pro-environment” things we can do is too long to imagine that anyone can or will do all of them. Personally I don’t believe we need to. I think everyone has to examine their own conscience and propensities and choose the actions we are willing to take. And it’s nobody else’s business what you or I choose to do.
Having grown older (and hopefully a little wiser) I get it now that proselytizing winds up either (1) preaching to the choir — people who already believe and wonder why you think they don’t; or (2) turning off many of the rest because, let’s face it, self-righteous little piss ants like I was are just annoying.
But my spiritual journey also leads me to believe that screaming and hopping up and down about the destruction of the environment and environmental doom and gloom leads to more destruction of the environment. The vision of doom and gloom leads to doom and gloom. The more people you get on board by beating the drum for doom and gloom, the more powerfully you create the energy of inevitable destruction.
I look at sunsets and beautiful forests and hold the vision of an earth that always has them. I see positive change: a world in which millions of people are now recycling, driving hybrid cars, using recycled products, etc. That was just a dream back in 1970 when I began my environmental journey. It’s not just for hippies any more. I see positive changes and amazing possibilities. I believe we can envision an environmentally clean and safe world and then create it.
I hold the vision and chant for earth and I still try to keep my environmental footprint small. What I do and don’t do… that’s my business. What you do or don’t do, that’s yours.
* Pretty much all those consumer advocate groups in the world of public utilities were abolished a few years after I quit. As far as I can tell all utilities are back pretty much pushing whatever they want through commissions with no one looking out for consumers…