UNLESS

22 Apr

Forty-ish years ago, a senator by the name of Gaylord Nelson (Wisconsin) organized a nationwide environmental teach-in to help educate children and the population about environmental concerns. This was called Earth Day, and the first year saw about 20 million people participating.

Now, around 500 million people will “participate” in Earth Day (or Earth Week) around the globe.

It’s an interesting holiday, and one that has sparked a bit of back-and-forth within the environmental community, for a few reasons.

My own criticism of the holiday stems largely from the idea that we can learn about all kinds of things in one day, but UNLESS we actually make a change that matters, it won’t make any difference. Giving people a token action (say, giving money once to a local environmental charity) is not that useful if it is a one time token action. The money will be well spent, but one donation does not an environmentalist make.

Also, a lot of the things pushed for Earth Day are trivial.

Yes, choosing to use a reusable bag is a worthwhile investment, as it chooses to use a reusable thing rather than a disposable one… except that many reusable bags are made of plastic (more petroleum) or cotton (a crop that requires HUGE amounts of chemicals in most growing operations). And that paper bag comes from trees, and requires a lot of processing.

In short, most of the advice – like these stamps supposedly rolling out from the USPS this week – is insipid and silly in a culture that already KNOWS that there is shit going down with the environment. Maybe it’s because I had the luxury of being in grade school after the onset of Earth Day celebrations, but I’ve heard “turn off the water when you brush your teeth” since I was old enough to brush my teeth.

Most people have already chosen where they will or will not make changes. Right now, human wants are going to trump proposed “environmental changes”, especially when they’re inconvenient, or painted as inconvenient by industries that would be harmed by the change. And really, many “good” changes cost money – even so called “simple” ones like adding insulation to your house. Plus, some people think that anyone asking them to take care of the environment is just taking away their God Given Freedom To Do Whatever The Hell They Want as they throw still lit cigarette butts from their neon orange Humvees.

But then, if I look back at what I just wrote, there was a level of success there. Learning about the environment and taking care of it was just part of the April curriculum at school. It gave us a chance to plant trees and learn about sprouting beans in the classroom window.

If Earth Day can make little knowledge accessible to little kids, then I’m all for it. Much like Earth Hour, though, it’s only useful if we take it beyond one day. Knowing that you should do something is different than doing it.

Planting a tree is no use if all you do is plant it, and then leave the poor little sapling to shrivel up and die in the summer heat with no water. You did little for the environment UNLESS you kept up with caring for it.

Earth day works if Earth Day is a seed, not the full extent of the education.

As with any project, though, we have to start somewhere.

The used bookstore where I work spends a lot of time and resources on recycling and other small community education programs, as well as chain wide “competitions” (where stores work to use fewer bags for purchases, and then the Corporation donates a certain amount of money for each declined bag to a nation wide charity). Plus, a used bookstore is, at heart, a recycling operation. Our receipts for sold merchandise say “Thanks for giving a new life to your stuff.”

So today, as part of our store’s celebrations of Earth Day, I’ll be reading The Lorax aloud to whatever children I can find to listen. This will happen (in some form or another) in all the Half-Price Books stores in the country.

And I will emphasize to them the great UNLESS that Dr. Seuss poses to all of his readers. The challenge of UNLESS that is central to the message of The Lorax:

UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
It’s not.

-The Lorax, Dr Seuss

Storytime with Anna

As I was practicing for my performance of The Lorax at work, I recorded myself reading it. I figure if I post that on the internet, I’ll have a HUGE audience, and that’ll be a little less nervous than reading for my coworkers and customers.

So here you go: The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss

(And yes, it’s better with pictures)

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4 Responses to “UNLESS”

  1. Cynwise April 22, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    Watching it from the viewpoint of the kids – you never know what a holiday is going to do to them.

    Earth Day wasn’t a big deal for my son. It reinforced some of the things he’s already doing, but he’s already doing them. He has his own garden. He recycles, he conserves water with rain barrels, he composts – because that’s what we do as a family. These behaviors are already present.

    Martin Luther King day was very, very different. He came home and told me ALL about MLK, and did you know that he wants everyone to live together in peace? We’ve been raising him to be color blind, to make the race and religions of his friends not even an issue – which I stand behind – but for some reason, MLK Day really struck a chord with him. He and I had some great discussions about racism, slavery, and treating people as equals.

    This became really necessary when he came home and used an ethnic slur he’d heard at the playground. He had no idea what it meant, but I was able to turn him directly to MLK and make him see why it was wrong.

    Kids are funny. You never know what seeds are going to take root.

  2. Tami April 22, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    I waited all day to get home so I could listen to the recording.

    It was worth it.

    The story is amazing (and I don’t remember it, if ever I’ve read it before) and your delivery was extremely well done. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to learn that it wasn’t you, but rather the official audiobook, except I’ve heard your voice before. =]

    How did it go, reading it to the kids? I know I stayed interested the whole time, even not seeing the pictures. ❤

    • Anna April 23, 2011 at 12:05 am #

      @Tami – It actually went REALLY well. There were only a handful of kids, and they were all older (at least Kindergarten, if not 1st-3rd grade), so they were interested and engaged (I got a story about one’s friend who told him that his buddies keep trying to put goldfish+soda filled bottles in their recycling) 😄 Also, a few adults hung around in nearby aisles, at least one of which was actively listening, but didn’t seem to want to come sit on the floor with the kids.

      Overall it was a great experience, both for me and for the store – and they’re considering doing a once a month storytime in the future because of it 😀 I’ve always enjoyed reading aloud, so I hope I get to play along at least some of the time.

      • Tami April 26, 2011 at 10:39 am #

        Oh neat! That would be great, a regular storytime. You’d probably get repeat customers at that point, too!

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