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Lessons learned on loving the Earth

This column appeared in print in April 2007.

I support the World Wildlife Fund, avoid animal-tested products. There’s no SUV in my driveway, and I’ve never once watered my lawn. So I was feeling a tad smug a couple of weeks ago as I settled into my seat at the Van Wezel and waited for Jane Goodall to talk.

But in less than twenty minutes, Goodall had wiped that self-righteous smugness right off my face. With elegant simplicity and plainly presented truths, Goodall had accomplished what no Earth Day celebration or PBS documentary had ever managed.

She made me feel ashamed.

Goodall stood at the podium for over an hour and spoke. No heart-wrenching images of chimps flashed on the screen behind her — she seemed to know her words would be enough. And they were.

Goodall’s quiet voice shattered the illusions of my long-held “every little bit counts” mentality – a mentality that has let me off the hook from doing any “big bit” that might require real sacrifice or discomfort.

So what if I drive my car less than four miles roundtrip to pick up a pint of milk instead of biking … it’s humid and my hair would frizz. What’s the resulting four pounds of carbon dioxide raining down on the polar bears got to do with me having a bad hair day?

So what if the island nation of Kiribati is drowning due to global warming and more and more of its citizens are becoming “Climate Refugees?” Um, where the heck is Kiribati anyway and why should that be more important than the long hot bubble bath I need to feel sane at the end of every day?

Something about the privilege of sitting in the air-conditioned, waterfront Van Wezel, though, listening to Goodall’s compassion and responsibility for all living things, brought that sense of entitlement crashing down around my ego.

It’s been painful to see myself through Goodall’s global perspective – to see the blithe arrogance and sloppy thinking that let me convince myself that simply separating my recyclables was “doing my part” for the world.

Goodall stripped me of my delusions. And I won’t be the person I thought I was if I continue to ignore my responsibilities in favor of indulging my whims.

I’ve rarely given more than a second thought to the chickens, turkeys, pigs and cows whose flesh fills up my dinner plate. This week, I looked at my much-adored cats, Einstein and Coco, and asked myself: who am I to decide which creatures deserve names, respect, and decent treatment, and which ones don’t?

Which animals are so low in my esteem that I can ignore the amputated beaks, the crippled legs, the ungodly horror of the debased conditions that exist in our nation’s animals-into-food factories? All so I can have what I want, when I want it, at the price and ease of acquisition that I think is my due?

If I don’t change my ways, I’m the one who is debased. I think on some level I always knew what Goodall told us that night. I’m ashamed to say I simply didn’t care enough about the creatures, people, and parts of the Earth that were outside my field of vision.

I don’t know how long Goodall’s wake-up call will last. Or at what point laziness or self-indulgence might lull me back to sleep.

But I’m wide awake today and I’m trying like hell to stay that way.

The day after Goodall’s lecture, I bought a lock and basket for my bike. No more excuses.

I’ve been riding my bike for local errands and in one week, with all the trips I pedaled instead of petrol-ed, I’ve prevented nearly 30 pounds of emissions from unnaturally warming the Earth. I know I can do more– buying humanely-raised meat and installing an outdoor clothes line are next on my list.

As I write this column, it occurs to me that by driving 30 miles less each week, that’s 1,500 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere and $300 more bucks going into my pocket every year.

More than enough to cover the cost of those Town Hall Lecture Series tickets I complained about last week.

A lesson in humility and a lesson in that time-honored notion that what goes around comes around … what will the world teach me next?

Posted on January 21st, 2009Comments RSS Feed

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