Earth Day: In Celebration of the Little Things?

“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.” – John Muir

Yesterday, in a household effort of spring cleaning, I cleaned out my closets. In doing so, I found a skirt I’ve been holding on to for 17 years. I remember buying it clearly — I was 16 and went to the Ralph Lauren factory outlet in Kittery, Maine, near my hometown in New Hampshire. The skirt fit me perfectly then (incidentally it’s a ‘Size 8’ which is clearly a 4 or 6 by today’s standards — how quickly sizes have changed!) and I liked the color (white) for the summer.

IMG_1951I wore it a lot then, but kept it all these years because it was such good quality. That’s right. It was made WELL, unlike most products created for mass consumption (and disposability) in the American market these days. Not only that, but there’s a tag proudly displayed along the inner seam (see photo at right). Not just made in the USA, but UNION made. My, my, how things have changed—remember at the Olympics last year when Ralph Lauren got in trouble for dressing US Olympians in clothes made in China? I guess the company decided it was better to go cheap and non-sustainable than to keep things costlier, better produced, and close to home.

In recent years, I’ve become overly-anxious about the environmental impact of my actions and choices. Just the other day, I spent five minutes holding up the line at a coffee shop because I really wanted an iced latte but the shop didn’t have glasses for in cafe consumption (I know, first world concerns, right?). Favoring an eco option, I chose a hot latte only because they had porcelain cups in which to serve it (not disposable plastic). I’m one of only a few L.A. friends who takes the bus in the city (this fact not only astonishes me, but also embarrasses me for several reasons).

But I know: these are little things. I’m not out there doing great conservation work like that highlighted in this HIPPO Reads curation. I’m not making films like this one exposing the horrific practices of some rich Cantonese dude who collects (and pays big bucks for) critically endangered (or extinct in the case of the Western black rhino) animals.

Last week I complained to a friend that I’m so anxious I’m not doing enough to live an environmentally-conscious life. Perhaps, I lamented, I’d be better off moving to the woods and consuming everything entirely locally.  And let’s not get started about procreation. I’ve regularly worried about the environmental impact a child creates in this world — it’s part of the reason I’ve waited so long and always favored adoption.

“But you actually practice what you preach!” my friend said when I told her I feel I don’t do enough for sustainability at large.

“Really?” I asked.

“Yeah, you really do!”

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Beijing’s pollution earlier this year (note: when I first lived in the city in 1996 the streets were flooded with bicycles, not cars)

I didn’t believe her. I still felt like a sham. Still do. I’m envious of those in the world who can simply go through their lives without questioning every decision, without worrying about taking a shower today or buying non-organic groceries at Trader Joe’s or driving a car on a daily basis. Can they please teach me how to forget the environmental destruction I’ve seen as close as the beaches of Malibu (plastic Starbucks straws littering the shore) and as far as the skies of Beijing (where pollution levels have reached dangerous highs)?

But then I wonder — what if we were all more conscious of the ramifications of our actions? What if a billion tiny choices actually resulted in big, sustainable changes? I recognize I’m privileged enough to be asking such questions—of course, those impoverished kids I witnessed in Indonesia tossing their garbage into the sea didn’t have the money or time to care about conservation. But many of us in America and the rest of the Western world do (and increasingly in BRIC too!). And that’s why I still feel like I’m not doing enough. Why, perhaps, I never will.

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About Kaitlin Solimine

Kaitlin Solimine was raised in New Hampshire but has considered China a second home for the past two decades. She is the author of the award-winning forthcoming novel Empire of Glass and co-founder of Hippo Reads, a media start-up connecting academic insights with real world issues. She lives in Singapore.
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