Some truth about me as a person? I’m horrible at New Years resolutions. Don’t get me wrong, I love them. I plan them. I hoard them, coming up with way too many and getting overly excited about all of them. I make lists, and timelines, and mini-goals. Unfortunately, it seems the outcome 98% of the time is a few months of triumphant, self-improving activity, followed by a slow shift back into my normal pattern of existence. But, over the past 5 years, each Earth Day I have made a second batch of resolutions. With this set of commitments, I’ve experienced an almost unprecedented success rate. Over the years, I’ve greatly reduced my plastic consumption, I have committed to the concept of reusing pretty much everything, and I cut all animal derived products from my diet. As someone who is really used to failing and having to restart as part of her daily life (because, scientist), I’ve started to wonder why my Earth Day Resolutions stick, while so many other intentions (I’m doing all the dishes everyday starting tomorrow!) seem to fall to the wayside. After some reflection, I believe the reason is twofold. First, I have strong examples of conservation champions, and, second, Earth Day Resolutions aren’t actually about global impacts for me.
This is an essay in two parts. The first part is a love letter to to the people in my life who made real for me the importance of conservation and preservation of the Earth. The second bit contains my 2015 Earth Day Resolutions and explains why I think you should make some too!
|True Confessions: I probably have enough pictures of myself hugging trees to fill an entire photo album
#EarthDayThanks, A Letter of Love and Gratitude
I don’t think, if you did a survey on the street, you would find anyone willing to admit that they don’t care about the conservation of our planet’s ecosystems and resources. And, on the most basic level, I truly believe that almost everyone does care, it’s just that they are either actively deluding themselves, or they just don’t really get it. As Aldo Leopold famously wrote in A Sand County Almanac, “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” Obviously, there are a number of ways to learn the importance of a thing, and reading and education are but two. Another would be active demonstration of the things worth.
About a week back, I got an email from a buddy who is a Switzer Fellow about a social media campaign called #EarthDayThanks. The full description can be found here, but the short and the long of it is that we all take a few minutes and thank those who have influenced us to care about the health of our planet. It’s a great idea, and a great way to bring awareness to names that, for many of us, are very familiar. Think the previously quoted Aldo Leopold, my girl Rachel Carson, or even Darwin. We can also draw attention to personal heros; one of mine is Jane Lubchenco, the first female NOAA Administrator. But, to me, the cool thing about this campaign is its emphasis on people we know personally, people we love and local leaders alike. These are the people who are showing those who maybe “don’t get it” why preservation, conservation, and sustainability are important. If you know people like this, I encourage you to write your own #EarthDayThanks post, even if Earth Day has officially passed. It can be a tweet, a Facebook status, a Tumblr post, or a full blog essay. These are people courageously facing the world of wounds Leopold wrote of, and they deserve to know we stand behind them.
Dr. Albert Meier, my #EarthDayThanks goes out to you. When I was only 19, you showed me the joys of ecological exploration as an academic persuit. You are a tireless educator, turning an Ecology course, which is a hoop for many pre-professional students, into an immersive and life changing experience. The extra time you take in planning and executing course field trips to the Smoky Mountains and the Gulf of Mexico is not required, but I know it has shown countless young people their first glimpses of the vast abundance of this planet’s biodiversity. I know that, each year, you still cry on the last day of class when you quote Slobodkin and Dykhuizen, “It is almost too late to start, but tomorrow is even later.”
While you care for all your students, I know you take special pride in educating the next generation of ecologists. You are never stingy with your praise, and you are open with your advice. You told me once, though I’m not sure you will remember it now, that a well timed research project can inspire a wave of conservation actions that activism taken alone never could. You said it as a matter of course, something internalized to your personal belief system over the years of your experience. I want you to know that this is a part of me now as well. My own stuttering quest for understanding is founded in this idea. How do I ask the questions that can spark human actions? How can I cultivate a scientifically fertile ground for the next conservation campaign?
You are tireless in your pursuit of funds to preserve and protect the natural heritage lands of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. As a native of Louisiana, I know you’re always trying to score points with us northern-southern folk, but any long standing joke about your “Kentuckian Points” falls short of your actual achievements for conservation in the state. If people ever wonder about the value of a bluebell or the true tragedy of the American chestnut, they need only look to your devotion and passion to begin to understand the value of these thing.
|My sister Sara (an ecologist), myself, Albert, and Meridith. December 2013.|
My parents, Mark and Juanita Wigginton, my #EarthDayThanks goes out to you. Thank you for putting me in a baby backpack and carrying me through the Ozark Mountains. Thank you for teaching me the names of trees, letting me keep crayfish in back porch tanks for observation, and buying approximately one million ZooBooks. Thank you for taking me backpacking, when the trip was really just for the guys, you and your college friends who were homesteaders and prairie restorationists. Thank you for letting my follow you around the garden all morning, not really helping, but spewing an endless stream of natural history questions. Thank you for answering. Thank you for admitting when you didn’t know the answers, but helping me look them up in books later. Thank you for teaching sixth graders science and enduring angry parent calls when you inform their children they are made of stardust. Thank you for teaching me that I am made of stardust.
Thank you for growing your own food, refusing to turn on the AC in the summer, living with minimal heat in the winter, your endless insistence on carpooling, line drying your clothes, composting, recycling, reusing, making things instead of buying them, looking for local goods, starting a CSA business way before that was hip, patching my pants, never blinking an eye when your children became vegetarians, explaining to all the relatives when one of your children became a vegan, for never ever purchasing a new car, for never once flinching in the face of being pigeon holed as the hippie parents by other soccer moms or the guys you grilled with at the company picnic. For all the other million little ways you explicitly demonstrated a lifestyle that turned belief and knowledge into action, thank you.
Thank you for your soft footprint on the Earth where your decedents will walk.
|My Parents, Summer 2010|
No blog post or letter could really portray the earnestness with which I recognize the impact these three individuals have had on my relationship to this planet.
Earth Day Resolutions
I truly hope that, if you examine your life, you can find someone who deserves your #EarthDayThanks. And, after reflecting on the firm foundation of my conservation passion, I’m ready to make my 2015 Earth Day Resolutions. I know there are a few in the crowd who might poo-poo the notion of making individual changes in the name of the Earth. The more I learn about our global problems, the more I begin to grasp how my own personal choices are like a drop of water in the ocean, certainly not enough to turn the tide. And still, I will strongly contend that our personal choices continue to matter. What we choose to do day after day, the habits we cultivate, those count.
First, and most obviously, cultural change can and will make a difference, but culture won’t change unless we demand it. Every day, when you interact with the world, you are voting. We vote with our dollars, or lack there of. We vote with our actions. One of the reasons there are more plastic bottle soda machines than there are aluminum can machines is because we, as consumers, asked for them with our purchasing power. I asked for that for years, but then I changed my vote. You can too.
|I’m casting all my votes for this.|
Second, and perhaps more importantly, living in line with your values is empowering. Yes, our current environmental problems require global solutions. Yes, there really is only so much a single person can do. But, damn it, I’m going to do it. For me, keeping my Earth Day Resolutions is part of creating a life that demonstrates my personal belief systems. I’m a far cry from a perfect global citizen, but each year, as I commit to a few more small changes, I create a life that is more honest to myself and compassionate to my planet. For me, that’s reason enough to try.
Without further adieu, my 2015 Earth Day Resolutions:
1) Optimize household water conservation – I live in California for goodness sake. I’ve got a bucket to catch shower water, but I want to streamline the actual showering process and re-think my dishes doing approach.
2) Reduce my wedding’s carbon footprint – I’m getting married in Kentucky and numerous friend and family members are traveling to be there for this pretty big day in my life. There is also all the stuff that weddings consume. I’ve been hardcore scheming about this for over a year now. Six months of for the day of the event, it’s time to put plans into action.
3) Stop purchasing new clothes – Don’t read this the wrong way. I’m actually at the precipice of a wardrobe makeover. Eighty percent of the clothes I currently own (this is not an exaggeration) are over 6 years old. Most of them acquired before I moved to CA in the summer of 2009. A large bulk of them were things I was given for free by friends and family members. I am, supposedly, a young professional, so I think I need clothes that fit properly and suit my tastes, not the tastes of my sister/cousin/former roommates. I’m committing to the wardrobe revamp, but I want to purchase at least 90% of the items second hand. Reuse is my favorite R.
Do you have any #EarthDayThanks for Earth Day Resolutions? Please share them in the comments below!