I attended our son’s 5th grade musical at his school the other night and as any parent knows, having a school program where the kids sing silly songs for the sake of singing them is verboten nowadays, and instead there needs to be a “message.” Don’t do drugs! Be more tolerant! Your winter holiday is almost as important as Christmas! This particular one, to coincide with Earth Day today, had some sort of “fragile planet” theme admonishing the audience to do several things to save the big rock we live on. Which is harmless, of course, except for the fact that most of the musical’s dated script has become completely irrelevant.
For instance, there was a peppy number about chlorofluorocarbons and their devastating effect on the Earth’s ozone layer. My son agreed that was some pretty serious stuff, so I sent him on a hunt around the house to find products that contained the chemical compound and we would stop using them. Guess how many he found? Zero. That’s because the EPA implemented a phaseout of using CFCs in products almost 20 years ago. Another song had the kids vowing not to accept polystyrene — a.k.a. Styrofoam — containers when going out to eat. Again, I did a follow up and asked, “When was the last time you remember getting Styrofoam containers at a fast food restaurant?” And again, we came up empty. Our local hot dog joint wraps everything in paper, and even McDonald’s mega-Styrofoam McDLT container is history. We were at a place last month where the “plastic” cups were made out of corn and completely compostable/biodegradable.
What about the lengthy dance number on recycling? The recycling movement is still alive and strong, right? Well, recycling is not all it’s cracked up to be, either. In fact, if you crunch the numbers the only thing that you can recycle that has an energy and cost savings vs. making it new are aluminum cans — which is why, not coincidentally, aluminum is the only thing you get paid for when you take it to the recycling center.
So what do we do, teach our kids they can just do anything they want on the planet and not to worry about it? Of course not. But it’s not about grandiose ideas like “saving the Earth” and it’s not about recycling, but about reducing consumption in the first place. Do small, practical things like turning out lights and TVs when nobody is in the room — and just don’t do it yourself, make the kids come back after they’ve wandered off to do it, too. Use a rain barrel under your gutter to collect rain water to water the plants. Drink tap water out of a glass or reusable container instead of buying bottled water. Bring your own canvas bags to the grocery store. None of those things take much effort or really affect your lifestyle, but go a long way in reducing the amount of resources used. And, as Julie Marsh points out in her column yesterday, it will save you some cash, too.
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