(Note to the Blog Action Day event folks, the script inserted at the end of last year's entry--when the topic for the event was "Poverty"--makes it look like it was written for this year's event on Climate Change. You might want to reconsider how that's done, so that there isn't a mis-match when folks inevitably see these entries months and years down the road. Just a thought.)
It's no secret that the political climate of America has become more than a little toxic. Bring up a charged topic like "Climate Change" and there's pretty much no way to win. You'll be dismissed for being too "liberal" by "conservatives" if you present a sense of too much urgency about the issue, but you'll be dismissed as "not caring enough" if you don't sound "urgent enough." However much climate change may be "an inconvenient truth" that needs wrestling with, it often seems like almost nothing can be done--certainly not on the scale required to make real change--simply because it's so difficult to get the average person to listen.
Personally, while I do care about environmental issues, I have little patience for a lot of sites out there (many of which are Christian faith-based) that, perhaps without entirely realizing it, foster an attitude of "whatever you're doing, it's not enough." I think such an attitude does more to paralyze than it does to encourage action. That's not to say that I think that most people are doing enough when it comes to good stewardship of the resources we've been given. It's to say that I think we need to be careful about how we make our case for change.
Dr. Glen Stassen is a professor of Christian Ethics here at Fuller Theological Seminary, and I took his course about a decade ago. While he makes choices that I think I could safely say are "too extreme" for me, personally (Note to students: don't bring a plastic bag into his presence if you can help it!), he is good about advocating for small changes, done consistently. Car pool more. Drive less (bike to work if you can). Put a brick in your toilet (or, perhaps even better, get one of those low volume models). Use your air conditioner and your heater less. I'm sure that there's nothing new here. My favorite example is far more subtle: say "no" to the straw.
Basically, if you eat at a restaurant where you're allowed to self-serve, don't take a straw if you're not going to be traveling with the food (the more aggressive among you might even try telling your waiter or waitress not to give you a straw at the nicer restaurants, but I've never been very successful at that, and once it's on your table, they're just going to throw it out, so the damage is already done). The plastic used in straws is generally non-recyclable (plastic straws tend to be code #5, and most recycling centers only take codes #1 and #2), and thus is just thrown out once it's been used (usually only that one time!). One straw is obviously only a tiny thing, but multiply that by however many times you eat out, and by however many people follow the same advice, and that's a significant amount of plastic that isn't being wasted. Naturally, fewer straws used means fewer straws ordered by the restaurant. Fewer straws ordered means less plastic being created and consumed. That means less waste for landfills, and fewer of the chemicals used to create the plastics being thrown out or pumped into the atmosphere, as well.
Politicians often talk like making changes to business structures that are bad for the environment would be too expensive to be practical. But clearly a change like using fewer straws would actually be economically beneficial! If businesses don't have to order straws so often, they save money. Granted, in this example, the "straw industry" stands to lose some money. But since greater efficiency is gained overall, I can't say that I'm too worried on that count.
Obviously, there will be those who argue that I'm not going nearly far enough. They would say (I assume) that only radical changes can achieve that kinds of improvements that are needed. I'm not unsympathetic to that concern. However, I firmly believe that if we only look for radical change, the amount of change that actually occurs will be far too small to be meaningful. Big changes multiplied by only a few people = little impact. However, I think that by encouraging people to make small, but consistent, changes in their lifestyles, we stand a far more realistic chance of making a real difference. Little changes multiplied by many people = Big impact!
So, the next time you're at a restaurant, just say "no, thanks" to the straw!