I’ve been a news junkie since I was a kid. When other girls emulated Madonna, I idolized Christiane Amanpour (OK, a news junkie and a nerd…). Despite my newsy ways, I’ve had a hard time reading about the oil spill: the endangered ecosystem, the corporate indifference, the preventable tragedy of it all. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating. After a brief break with the news, I did what I had to do: I learned more about the BP spill. Not easy.
As with the usual stages of grief, I find we have stages of grief in dealing with news of catastrophes. We begin with disbelief which turns to anger. Then we proceed to blame – and as we might hate to admit it, it’s often served with a side of self-righteous indignation. Some people stay at this stage, and we can find them screaming themselves hoarse on 24-hour news networks. But for those of us who choose to move on to the next stage, we have two choices: we can become cynics or we can become activists.
I despise cynicism. It’s the lazy person’s way to feel noble about doing nothing. When faced with challenge, we must choose activism. Because I’m not on the board of BP, a congressional committee, or an environmental relief team, I have limited means to respond to the oil spill. My literature degree doesn’t qualify me to swoop in to save the day. What I can do, though, is to determine my role in this. This is what has been so hard to accept: this oil spill not only implicates BP, but it implicates all of us. We need to realize that our oily fingerprints are all over this mess, too. Again, not easy.
In short, we consume too much oil. We can boycott BP for years but as long as we live oil-dependent lives, the drilling will continue at a frenetic pace, raising the risk of future spills. For those of us who visit sites like this (or even those of us who run them), we pride ourselves on our responsible and eco-friendly habits. Apart from No-Impact Man, however, we have room to improve. So when you watch the news and wonder, “What can I do about the oil spill? How can I help?” here are a few places to start.
- Drive less. What routes do you take by car that could be substituted with a bike ride or a walk? Multi-task and run your errands while getting your cardio. Charlotte’s becoming more bike-friendly all the time; check out the official Charlotte bicycle program plan.
- When you do drive, drive responsibly: This doesn’t mean selling your car to buy a Prius. We eco-friendly types are all about consuming less, so buying a new car isn’t the green choice necessarily. It’s easier than that: keep your tires properly inflated, your engine running smoothly, and use the recommended grade of motor oil and you’ll increase the miles you go per gallon up to 9%. (Source: Dept. of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and the EPA)
- Eat less meat. Industrial farming is a petroleum-based industry in this country, so reducing our meat intake reduces the amount of oil our lives necessitate. Even if you don’t go the Full Veggie, try having one meatless day this week. Next week, try two. When you’re fiending for a steak or pork chop? Find local farmers who sell humanely raised meat. (Read “Vegetarian is the New Prius“)
- Eat local. Reduce your food’s transportation-related oil consumption – while supporting your local economy – by choosing to buy local foods. Charlotte is blessed with a variety of farmer’s markets.
- Perform an energy audit of your home: You can hire the pros or do it yourself. While the bigger, sexier energy-efficient improvements top many people’s wish lists (solar panels!), some of the biggest improvements can be made with a caulk gun, a free afternoon and a couple dollars. (More tips from US Dept of Energy)
I know this makes me sound like a dreamer (but I’m not the only one). I’m not so naïve to believe that individual actions are enough, that regulations and policy changes aren’t needed to combat our oil dependency or prevent another spill. At a time when the news is so overwhelming, though, I prefer to find solace in the small actions I can take to than to feel overwhelmed by the large events I have no control to change. I’ll take individual activism over collective cynicism any day.
For anyone stuck in the cynicism stage or who doubts the power of the individual, please visit Simple Steps page of the National Resources Defense Council. We can each do so much… together.