Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day - Is Your Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

Earth Day. Wow what a long strange trip it’s been since that first grassroots college teach in day in 1969. 40 years later and Earth Day is celebrated and talked about world wide. I guess I could be like others and point to my city’s low recycling rates and get curmudgeonly and say, “See? Things are just as bad or worse, as they were 40 years ago on that first Earth Day!”

But are they?

Really?

I don’t think so.

As a person who studies way too much history – for fun mind you! – I see a lot of big scary environmental problems found and fixed since that very first Earth Day in 1969. For example:

  • We have gotten on the ball, and cleaned up environmental problems and put laws into place to prevent harmful materials to be included into our products. You can’t buy lead paint anymore. Its sale was prohibited in 1978. In 1994 federal law restricted toilet tanks to 1.6 gallons per flush to save water although some states regulated this earlier. You might already have a low flow toilet in your home and not even realize it! 
  • No more river fires and the dumping of toxic chemicals is illegal. Growing up on Lake Erie, I heard about the 1969 Cuyahoga River Fire. A spark from a road bridge set the sludge and waste factories dumped into the Cuyahoga River on fire. Because of this Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, started the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.) We now have regulations on what we can and cannot do with industrial waste products and the sale and use of many hazardous products are illegal. Whether these regulations are followed, loop holed, or enforced to the letter of the law is another story and may need work. 
  • No more smoggy foggy skies. How many references to Victorian London talked about fog enveloping Good Old London Town? It wasn’t fog – it was smog from factory chimneys. Los Angeles was famous for its smog too. Now I rarely if ever hear jokes about smoggy days from late night comedians located in Beautiful Downtown Burbank. 
  • Items like recycling, reusable shopping bags, reusable water bottles, and green cleaners and more! Are commonly talked about and used. Many cities have recycling programs built into their waste management programs. Where cities have fallen short, local, national, and nonprofit organizations and businesses that have stepped up to recycle items such as eyeglasses, ewaste, cell phones, makeup tubes, batteries and hard plastic bottle caps. Even people who may not agree with recycling or going green are still aware enough of all these things to make fun of them by name :)
  • There is a wider array of environmentally friendlier products available to mainstream shoppers and small town America. Some people may think it’s the end of days now that more mainstream companies are offering environmentally friendlier versions of their products, purchasing smaller green companies as subsidiaries, or at the very least redesigning their packaging to use less material or contain recycled content. Not me. I like that companies that once upon a time thought of green consumers as some crazy hippie niche are trying to serve us because we as consumers are voting with our dollars when a company takes steps in a greener direction. And we as consumers are also willing to stop buying products from those companies that think natural ingredients don’t work as well or are as good as petrochemical mixes.
For the most part, our big environmental worries have been noted and we’ve made steps to fix or prevent them from happening. For example, when was the last time you heard about factory waste causing acid rain?

Are there environmental hazards still out there? Well, of course there are. The thing is, our science has gotten better and with it we are able to find and fight more environmental bad guys, like questionable ingredients in our cosmetics or health and beauty products. Of course, politics plays a role this too. One country can't really march on over to another and make them to stop doing something without incident. Diplomacy is key in solving this matters althought it may sometimes takes more time than we like.

Sometimes we are are own worst enimies. Part of the problem is hat the term “green” is unregulated. Green means something different to almost everyone. While we care passionately about protecting our homes, families, and all that surround them we can get hung up on the minutiae of if something is or is not green. Do petrochemical ingredients in a 100% recycled content container count? What if it's 100% organic ingredients in a plastic container? Or possibily 99% organic ingredients and 1% of synthetic ingredients but created in a factory powered by renewable resources?

You get the idea. The list of parsing components out goes on and on and more time can be spent on aruging that then actually formulating a plan and doing something.

But I’m hopeful. I see it every day. I see kids from a family who’d rather trash toys than donate them get excited when I mention I’m gathering stuff from our event to take home and put in my recycling bin. I see it when even places like Aldi, Big Lots, and Dollar General have reusable shopping bags for sale next to the cash registers and not my just Hippie Mart. I was happily surprised when I went to a blogging event with a group of lifestyle bloggers and one of the women started a conversation about watching Food Inc. and everyone knew what she was talking about or had already seen the movie. I should also mention that I was the only green blogger at the event. And someone else brought up the movie as well as Food Rules.

So yes, I’m hopeful. There’s a growing awareness and people willing to campaign, and blog, and do what they can on a personal level to make their little parts of the world a better place.

So what about you? Is your Earth Day glass half full or half empty?

Updated 4/22/10:Correction. Sorry folks I got my dates mixed up. Food Inc. played on PBS April 21, 2010.Sorry about the mix up. Check if your library has a copy to see it for free.


 Disclosure: This post contains affliate links. If you chose to make a purchase using the link in this post, I earn a small commission (really small) which will help me with my goal of making Condo Blues a self hosted blog at no additional cost to you. Although I encourage you to check your local library for the items mentiond in this post first.