Sunday, September 14, 2003

Life as a young environmentalist

By Julie Morris
Guest columnist

Becoming an environmentalist in 2003 is as easy as tossing an empty cola can out the car window. I am one such mass-produced nature lover. I hug trees, but not in public. I hail Ralph Nader as a knight in recycled armor, but not devoutly. I help save whales, but only when it's convenient.

I consider myself an environmentalist, but, admittedly, my environmental convictions appear far stronger than they actually are. One source of blame for my embellished sentiment is the thousands of slaughtered tree slices, forced upon me at school each day: colored slices, pearly white slices, hardly-inked slices, and the popular, print on-one-side slices. It completely uproots my nerves. I am further provoked at lunch, where I find stacks of one-use-only Styrofoam trays, waiting to be wasted.

And don't even get me started on the water bill. Two years ago, my high school ingeniously installed automatic flushing toilets that activate an average of three times per use (if you're quick). Undoubtedly, there is a need for sanitary facilities, but one flush is enough! I've thought about asking students to boycott the bathrooms considering that, at 10 gallons per flush, three flushes per use, and 2000 students per day, the entire student body could drown in the ocean of waste that much water makes.

Being a poster girl for Mother Earth is a lonely gig these days.

As a member of the 2003 Pollution Police, fudging fidelity is a part of the position.

My life is a shining example. Every morning, heading to school on a mission to promote recycling, I thoughtlessly plug the silver key of independence into my Mercury. I let my guilt flush out the exhaust pipe as I flash past the bus that stops at the neck of the neighborhood. Sure, I could ride the freshman-infested cheese, but get real-that would be inconvenient.

Come evening, as I pack my lunch and complain about my school's faulty policy on water conservation, my peanut butter sandwich plops into a Ziploc bag while mounds of re-usable Tupperware collect dust in the cupboard. Why? Because Friends starts in a few minutes, because it's dusk so my mind is officially dormant, because, as the sage amphibian once quipped: "It's not easy being green." Finally, I should admit that the air conditioner in my home hums round the clock all summer long. I laze in the frosty sanctuary of my house, sipping a can of lemonade and watching my nature-loving neighbor douse his lawn with water until the grass is neon green. I stare on as he jumps atop a macho mower that spits out black clouds. In my defense, I always flip my empty can of lemonade into our recycling bin. Thus, even though I am a tree-hugger of 2003, I cannot be planted on the path to a less polluted future.

As my school's environmental policy has withered away, my environmental scruples have slowly swirled down the drain. Let's face it: the environment has mutated because environmentalists have mutated. When even the most conscientious individual leaves the water running while brushing his teeth, it is no small wonder that the ozone layer is checking out. At a time when environmental activists drive half way across the country to picket a pipeline proposal, Mother Nature is going to sweat - and we certainly don't need more global warming.

It's not as if we can cower behind excuses because, during the age of cloning sheep and shrinking cell phones, we certainly have the technology to make unnecessary environmental homicide a practice of the past. The proper gadgets and gizmos - such as solar-powered cars and electricity-generating windmills - are accessible, but the needed guts and gumption are absent.

In the spirit of vacuuming up biological misdeeds, I must come clean: my pen's initial intent was to slam society for its wanton gluttony. But such a hypocritical statement is a waste of ink. How dare I scold my school's thrill in wasting paper and senseless plumbing, when I, a self-proclaimed environmentalist, take 20-minute showers? I support tree-hugging only when I can be certain the sap will not stain my shirt - which is to say, I am an environmentalist of 2003.

Which is to say, not much of anything.


Julie Morris, a graduate of Sycamore High School, is now a freshman at Ohio State University. Winners of the contest are expected to be announced this week on the the Newsweek Education Program Web site, www.newsweekeducation.com. (Essay deadline for next year is March 1, 2004.)

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