Edith writing from north of Boston where, as usual, April presents whiplash weather as well as lovely flowers. One day it’s 72 out and I’m wearing sandals. The next day’s high is 39, I don my lighter winter coat to go walking, and get snowed on coming home.
Last Thursday was my fiftieth Earth Day. (Yes, I know it was the fifty-first, but bear with me.)
In April 1971 I’d been back from an exchange student year in southern Brazil for three months. I was living at home and attending community college until I could start at the University of California Irvine in the fall.
My next older sister was already a student at UCI, and I would occasionally drive Daddy’s VW bug the hour south to spend a few days with her. She and her friends, as well as my fellow students, were talking about the “Ecology Movement.” Saving the environment and living simply made a lot of sense to me, especially living in the smog pocket that was the San Gabriel Valley (can you say inversion layer?), an area to the east of Los Angeles. And signs were going up all over Pasadena City College about Earth Day celebrations.
I decided it was wasteful to drive the family car to school. I bought a used boy’s no-speed bike and cycled the six and a half miles uphill from Temple City to Pasadena every day. Oh, to be eighteen again! I started buying my jeans at thrift stores and turning off lights.
I fully participated in the 1971 Earth Day festival at PCC. I kept using a bike for transportation through college and grad school and to my first few jobs.
Now, fifty years later, what has changed? Well, there’s good news and bad news.
On the personal front, I’ve been composting and recycling for decades, plus hanging the laundry on the clothesline when weather permits.
Our driveway holds two older-model Priuses. I still buy some of my clothes at consignment shops. I walk everywhere I can, doing my errands while I get my exercise (and plotting the next scene). We have solar panels on the roof and an organic garden behind the house. My adult children are highly eco-conscious and active, reducing their carbon footprint more than I do in some areas.
But Hugh and I also live in a three-bedroom (albeit modest, insulated, tight-windowed) house with three laptops and two cell phones and a television (his) and a microwave and lights and heat and all that entails. We are possibly overconsuming.
Everybody around me seems to drive giant vehicles that they leave empty and running while they go into a store. Our town provides twice-a-month recycling, but some of my neighbors never put out a bin, instead stuffing multiple trash barrels every week. The oceans are filling with plastic refuse, from discarded bags to micro-beads. Climate change is a real thing, endangering birds, animals, and coastal dwellers, to name a few. What kind of a climate am I leaving my sons and future (hopefully) grandchildren? All the rest of the children, all the rest of the world? Can we realistically turn global warming around?
Gah. This post is getting too depressing. Sorry. How does it relate to writing, you might fairly ask?
Without being pedantic about a social issue, I can certainly channel those feelings of hope and pessimism into characters. I can write a character who observes someone else acting differently with respect to climate habits (or any life choice) and reacts according to that character’s personality. Maybe I’ll have Robbie Jordan’s Aunt Adele or Mac Almeida’s grandmother Reba talk about the first Earth Day and about what it meant to her at the time. I can definitely describe a clothesline fanatic (write what you know…). And more.
See? For fiction writers, it’s all material!
Readers: What’s your experience of Earth Day? Do you try to take steps to help the environment?