It seems like the prevailing message about going green these days is to buy more stuff. The challenge is sorting through a lot of hype to find products, services and programs that are actually good for the environment. Let’s look at some facts about the current state of green living and some ways that you can become more conscious about your participation in this important movement.
You may wonder: Is America really becoming greener with all of its eco-type events and programs? I read a report recently indicating that 77 percent of Americans recycle. The southern region of the United States has the lowest participation nationally at 68 percent. One of the surprising factoids revealed was that Americans over 62 years old recycle more (81 percent) than younger adults ages 18 to 30 (70 percent). Oregon gets the most love for being recycle-friendly.
There also are some promising products now for sale on the market including solar panel systems, solar water heaters, earth-friendly building materials, and hybrid and electric vehicles. Less expensive choices include more sustainable clothing items, compact fluorescent light bulbs, rechargeable batteries, and reusable shopping bags.
Okay, now a question: What about reusable shopping bags? No doubt these bags have sold like hotcakes since 2007, but start noticing how many people are actually using them when you visit the grocery store.
Many reusable bags live lonely lives in the trunks and back seats of American automobiles.
According to the Worldwatch Institute, Americans throw away more than 100 billion plastic bags annually. Less than six percent of this total ends up in a recycling bin. Making a more conscious effort to actually use these carriers is a good first step in improving your green lifestyle.
Recycling, reusable bags, and using other products that reduce energy consumption are meaningful entry points to green living.
So, what else can you do? Here are some practical ideas for becoming a more hands-on environmentalist organized around three areas—volunteering, expanding your knowledge, and advocacy.
Volunteer–There are many organizations in our region that would welcome a helping hand. This is a time-proven way to make a difference, while also making new connections. Here are some of the local organizations you might want to support: Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, Mote Marine Laboratory, Keep Sarasota County Beautiful, Keep Manatee County Beautiful, Sierra Club, ManaSota-88, Save Our Seabirds, Friends of Sarasota County Parks, American Littoral Society, Audubon of Florida, and the Florida Native Plant Society.
I’ve been doing volunteer work with the Bay Guardians, a program funded by the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program. Recent projects involved removing invasive plants at G.WIZ in downtown Sarasota and Neal Preserve in Manatee County. Each outing requires about three hours of work.
Expand your Knowledge–My son Bryan and I recently discovered the Florida Master Naturalist Program. Earning this certificate requires completion of three courses: Coastal Systems, Freshwater, and Uplands. Each course involves 40 hours of classroom time and at least three field trips. It also requires a short presentation and group project. Bryan’s presentation in the recently completed coastal course was about the air potato vine, an invasive plant that strangles native species. My presentation was about the Brahminy blind snake, one of the world’s smallest snakes first sighted in Florida in 1983.
Our final group project provided classmates with guidelines on creating the Aha-Moment. This refers to a sudden understanding about the importance of wildlife and conservation. Many people understand the significance intellectually, but it often takes a personal experience to feel it on an emotional level. That’s the Aha-Moment. Life can be full of Aha-Moments if
we pay attention.
I’ll never forget swimming with dolphins in Mexico or spending a Christmas holiday among redwood trees at Sequoia National Forest in California. A more recent Aha-Moment occurred when I was boating locally on the Intercoastal Waterway. We pulled up on the beach at the southern tip of Lido Key. A few of us were walking into a small clearing when an amazing set of events occurred in the span of no more than 10 seconds. First, we noticed a large crab near the edge of the water. A fish suddenly appeared with an incoming wave and swallowed the crab whole. As the fish was flopping back into the Bay with his prize, a brown pelican swooped from the sky to capture the exposed fish. We were speechless to witness this display of wildlife. It is these kinds of moments that remind us why the environment is precious. All of the species that live in our bay and Florida are vital and interdependent.
Another learning opportunity is the Florida Master Gardener Program through the University of Florida Extension Program. This 50-hour course requires 75-hours of volunteer work within one year of earning the certificate. Finally, if you’re looking for one of the easiest ways to learn about local nature, explore the more than 100 area parks spread between Sarasota and Manatee Counties. Take along a copy of a Florida Nature Guide Book to help identify various species of plants and animals.
Advocacy–Each of us has an opportunity to be an advocate for positive change. Find an issue you care about and do your homework so you can be credible when interacting with other people including policy leaders. Corporate interests are extremely well represented at all levels of government, and it is often at the expense of the environment and human wellness.
Become a voice for nature and all the critters that depend on our goodwill.
Many Americans have been misled to believe that sound environmental policies are a threat to the economy and job creation. This short-sighted thinking undermines the opportunity of making America a world leader in renewable energy, sustainable building, mass transit, and related fields and industries. The misguided pushback against the potential of green innovation will be studied by future scholars as one of America’s missed opportunities.
Be an agent of positive change anyway: as a volunteer, as a lifelong student, and as an advocate for the things you care about.