When I first decided to go green, I put a brick in my toilet.
In the '70s, that seemed like the environmentally-friendly thing to do. The brick displaced water in the tank, so the toilet used less every time it filled up. Now toilets are so much more efficient, with smaller tanks using far less water, so that even if I wanted to drop a brick in the tank, it wouldn't fit.
The idea seems rather quaint now, a relic of an earlier era when we really thought we could change the world — one brick at at time.
Now, 40 years after the first Earth Day was launched, the world seems a whole lot worse off. Polar caps are melting, rare species are dying, and overpopulated cities are hopelessly polluted. It makes me forgot sometimes how much progress we have made.
Once so polluted that it burst into flames, the Cuyahoga river that runs through Cleveland now supports aquatic life. Air quality in Houston and Los Angeles is better. Across the nation, buildings, automobiles and appliances are far more energy efficient than they were back then and we're much more knowledgable about ways to save the planet.
But now, with so much information out there, I'm often paralyzed by too many the choices.
We avidly recycle, but I can't remember if it's OK to throw No. 5 plastic containers and cardboard cereal boxes in the bin. (I know they don't take glass but sometimes I foolishly slip in an empty — and washed— bottle to protest.)
The move to compostable bags for leaves and yard trimmings seems like a good idea, but where can you find the bags and how much do they cost? We've switched some energy saving light bulbs in the house, but what about dimmers? Several of my old cell phones and computers are lying around the house because I don't know where to dispose them. I try to remember to take reusable bags to the supermarket, but I often leave them in the car. Old habits die hard.
I'm confused about the extent of global warming and the amount of pesticides in the food supply. If a business advertises that it's "green," what exactly does that mean?
And I sometimes wonder, in the scheme of things, do these little eco-friendly things I attempt even matter?
During April, CultureMap will examine what green living means in the 21st century. We've asked our staff and a wide range of contributors to sort through the clutter and explain it all in a way that even I can understand. Throughout the month, everyday people will tell us how — and why — they have made green living a big part of their lives. Experts will discuss the phenomenon of "green washing" (companies that say they're green when they really aren't) and debate global warming (one of our experts believes it's highly overstated.)
We'll also offer ideas on how to be green on a budget and how to dress in an eco-friendly way. And to stretch the green theme further, we'll look at some gardners and landscapers who are making Houston a more liveable city.
I'm starting to believe it easy being green — if you don’t get overwhelmed by all the possibilities.
If you have strong thoughts on the subject or questions of your own, add them to the bottom of this column or let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.