Six Signs That I’m a Born-Again Tree Hugger

Consumption increases with wealth. Some dispute this, but I believe the relationship between having and spending is valid. If anyone can find a study that proves that the more people have, the less they buy, send that along, and I’ll recalibrate my hypothesis. Absent that, and based on personal experience, there is a direct correlation between what we make and what we spend.

And dammit, we love to spend. Humans are tribalistic peacocks; we flaunt what we’ve got. Even before the Internet turned conspicuous consumption into a contact sport and wreaked havoc on the environment, we loved our stuff.

But it wasn’t always like that. In the 70s, saving the earth was a real thing. People were into it; I was into it. Then, like almost everyone else, I got distracted by shiny things. But that’s changing quickly. There are signs of a human reconciliation with Mother Earth. Environmentalism today is less a fad and more a lifestyle. I’m back on board in ways that I never was before. Here’s how I know.

1) My Daughter’s Gen Z Inspires Me

While my daughter and I were working our way through the eight Harry Potter books, it didn’t resonate with me that the central conflict was between a teenage boy and an adult. Harry was fighting to save the planet from a bunch of evil grown-ups. Like Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games and Thomas in The Maze Runner. In a tragic case of life imitating art, my daughter’s generation is fighting a toxic dumpster fire that their parents and grandparents started; it’s got them rattled. A poll of over 10,000 teens revealed that six out of ten felt ‘very worried’ or ‘extremely worried’ about climate change. Overall, 45% said their feelings about climate change impacted their daily lives. So when my daughter went vegan for ethical reasons, I joined her. When she started refilling water bottles and carrying bamboo straws, I did the same. When she went thrifting, I went along. She didn’t tell me to do it. She didn’t ask me to do it. She didn’t expect me to do it. She inspired me to do it.

2) The Amazon Truck Makes Fewer Stops at My House

Last year, Amazon delivered over four billion packages. By their admission, the company generated almost 70 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s if you believe them, which you shouldn’t because their facts are dubious at best. But regardless of the real number, it’s enormous. And while Jeff Bezos has pledged to be carbon-neutral by 2040, I’m trying to get there before he does. So I’ve addressed my Pavlovian Order Syndrome, and I am not hitting that One-Click button unless what I’m buying is an absolute necessity. And for every clothing item I buy, I donate two. So while my Amazon driver and I aren’t meeting nearly as often, I appreciate the things I do buy much more.

3) Getting Dressed is Easier Than Ever

Last winter, I purged my closet for the first time since Bush was president — the first one. It was scary to see all those clothes pile up, but the more I purged, the better I felt. It was invigorating. I took seventy pairs of shoes to a consignment shop. They accepted one pair and donated the rest. Six crates of clothes were split between Goodwill and St. Vincent De Paul. When I got done, it looked like I’d been burglarized — and it felt great. Now, getting dressed every day is easier because I’ve narrowed my choices. And not one person noticed when I’ve worn the same shirt two days in a row.

4) Meat has Lost its Appeal Because My Diet Impacts the Environment

Between the ethics and the environmental impact, I’m pretty much done with meat. According to a recent CNN article on climate change solutions, if people opted for a more plant-heavy diet, we’d remove the equivalent of 513 million cars from the roads. Ethically, the process of getting a steak to my plate is horrifying. From an environmental standpoint, our meat-based, protein-delivery system that includes cows, pigs, and chickens is a disaster. The protein you get is questionable; the resources it takes to raise, slaughter, and deliver animal meat are inefficient at best. I like bacon as much as the next person but at what cost? There are natural alternatives available today that taste as good and are much better for the planet. The first few weeks of my Vegan conversion were exciting, and I missed cheese the most. But it wasn’t too long before I’d settled in, found the foods that I liked, and can’t imagine going back. I’ve adjusted it a bit since, and I deviate when necessary. I don’t feel guilty, and I don’t judge. To each their own, but this is right for me.

5) I’m forever hauling other people’s trash

My city doesn’t recycle commercial trash, so the lion’s share of recyclable waste goes to landfills. And yes, I’ve read the stuff about how we’re not even recycling the things we put in the blue bucket ever since China stopped buying our plastic. But I remain undaunted in my efforts. Because to give up is a cop-out to personal convenience. The paper and the aluminum are recycled, and maybe someday, the same country that managed to land a human on the moon will figure out how to recycle a straw. Until then, I will collect my recyclables from every dinner, meeting, and coffee klatch and bring them home to my blue bucket. No matter how futile it is today. Let the city figure it out. It costs me nothing.

6) I Don’t Care

I get looks. My friends think I’m a nut. But that doesn’t bother me at all. The changes I’ve made are legit and forever. Doing what I do makes me feel good. But for me, it’s no longer about saving the world or changing people’s minds. Doing the heavy lifting it will take to save this planet now falls to my daughter and her cohorts. Sorry, kiddo. My generation is change-averse and doesn’t want to make the sacrifices climate change demands. But take heart, it won’t be long before we’re fertilizer instead of toxic corporate enablers. So, while I feel rotten about the enormous challenge that we’ve left the Gen Z-ers, I believe they have the drive and the determination to make real change. To pick up what we started in the ’70s and then abandoned in the ’80s and show us how it’s done. After a fifty-year hiatus, the stakes have never been greater.

Happy Earth Day!

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Change happens. Words matter. Empathy is everything. The ability to consider two competing ideas in your mind at once is a gift that should be shared.

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Brad Michaelson

Brad Michaelson

Change happens. Words matter. Empathy is everything. The ability to consider two competing ideas in your mind at once is a gift that should be shared.

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