Environmental responsibility…there’s an app for that
By Austen Verrilli
Let me start by saying that, no, I am not talking about some program you can load on to your smart phone, dumb phone or tablet of any sort. No it’s not something that will shock you every time you drop a piece of trash on the ground or fail to recycle. And, no, I am not talking about something that alerts the secret police about the miniature Deepwater Horizon accident caused by a failed attempt to change the oil in the car. Heck if that app does exist I’m headed for Canada under the pseudonym ‘Joe Green’ and sneaking across the border when I get there.
This app has been around since long before I was alive and is certainly prehistoric compared to cell phones. It’s a mindset that takes into consideration each person’s role in our own environment. It’s a reaction to the true impact that we have on the planet. Simply put it’s conservation and it can be done daily with little effort.
The key to daily conservation is paying attention to the little things taken for granted during minutes or seconds in each day.
There are a total of 313,871,418 people in America according to current U.S. Census data and that number continually grows. Each person is 3.186×10^-9 percent of the nation. While it may not seem as if one person among more than 300 million will do a thing to change how our great nation rocks in the sea, one plus one plus one…plus one and so on certainly adds up.
Therefore small acts of environmental neglect can make a huge impact on the earth because many, many people do the same action. Likewise small acts of conservation can affect the environment in a positive way.
An example of how minutes of daily life affect the environment can be seen in plastic bags used every day. A bag at a grocery store is made of a material called polyethylene. Making the bag once a manufacturer has polyethylene material is not terribly complex or labor intensive thanks to modern machinery. Making the polyethylene, on the other hand, requires extracting, transporting, and refining crude oil.
Here’s a quick run through of that process: First crude oil is extracted from the earth (that’s a huge process in itself that I will save for another day.) The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that, in 2006, 331 million barrels of liquid petroleum gasses were used to make plastic products.
Natural gas is separated out from the crude oil after extraction and taken to a plant where the ethane is then separated from the natural gas and purified. Then ethane is converted to ethylene. Once the ethylene is made it must be converted to polyethylene through polymerization according to a University of Washington guide on making polyethylene. The science behind all of these steps is dense and too intensive for this article (though if anyone can explain it in plain terms, please do.) The point is those flimsy, single use plastic bags that we use for ten minutes take hours to make and are extremely labor and resource intensive.
They also never fully decompose once discarded. Plastic bags are recycled, sent to landfills or drift across store parking lots. They eventually do physically and chemically break down in nature thanks to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Plastic, though, never becomes a biodegradable material. Business Ethics Magazine reports that the full impact of degrading plastic bags is undetermined but plastic particulate likely ends up in the ecosystems of animals we hunt and fish.
A National Public Radio blog post from last May corroborates this information stating that the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” a collection of plastic and other waste debris floating in an area where ocean currents converge, has increased 100 percent. A press release on Scripps Institute of Oceanography study states that fish in that section of the Pacific consume 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic each year. That is a wide gap but it also means we too must be consuming some of that single use polyethylene.
The simple solution for the convenient conservationist is to moderate bag usage. Does that pair of socks really necessitate a bag for the walk back to the car?
There are many other little things done during the day that can have big impacts on the environment. Spending just 30 seconds more to attend to them can help save money, energy and the environment.
Many are obvious and talked about often, but here is a quick run through of some of the ways you can help the environment with little effort. Feel free to add more in the comments section. First recycle and don’t litter. Sleep in the basement in the summer so that fans aren’t running all night. Unplug chargers when they are not in use. Challenge yourself to make a dish with food that’s in the house instead of getting more food at the store. Buy clothes from thrift stores. Ride a bike. Donate old clothes, furniture and other unwanted stuff. Fix leaky fixtures. Turn the car off instead of idling at long lights. Use compact fluorescent light bulbs. Buy local food and produce.
My self-righteous butt doesn’t deserve to tell you how to live, though it seems I’m trying. I am certainly no saint of environmentalism. As a DIY mechanic I have caused oil spills and even let other fluids enter the water shed and air. I also enjoy driving fast. I like running a fan all night when I sleep. I enjoy eating large quantities of factory-farm raised meat and genetically engineered produce, and drink coffee from just about anywhere, except watery stuff in gas stations.
I still keep the earth in mind when living each day through small acts of eco attentiveness like shutting my car off at stoplights. I certainly damage the earth, but as John Popper of the band Blues Traveler sings “There’s no such thing as a failure who keeps trying. Coasting to the bottom is the only disgrace.”
Small things done to help the environment can add up especially if many start doing the same. You may not want to make an environmental statement. There is certainly a stigma in some social groups surrounding environmentalism. Become environmental in a way that’s convenient for you. I am sure some environmentalists will fume when they read that sentence. Still, something is always better than nothing.
Each action in one’s life can make a difference in some way. Even though each person is only .00000000319 percent of the population of the U.S, it doesn’t mean that all is lost. One person may be a small percentage of the earth but it means that each person has a large responsibility. The hardest thing in life is shirking the mentality that each person is meaningless among the masses. Small actions among large populations together really can help diminish large problems. Look at how Occupy protests ballooned and gained public attention.
What does your impact on the environment mean? It means as much as you want it to and the small things you do in your own convenience can help. If you don’t believe me try it and see what happens. Watch how much change you can make with small acts of conservation.