by Jillian Aicher
You’d appreciate this,” I beamed as my ocean lifeguard bosses pulled up to my stand on their green John Deer gator. “I spent two and a half hours picking up trash yesterday when my phone was dead.” John gave me a high five, but Peter just stared with that unending scowl of his from behind dark sunglasses.
“Because your phone was dead?”
Here I was, a NatGeo-reading, Standing Rock protest-attending, Environmental Science-studying student at Georgetown University. I have devoted my past five summers to lifeguarding on the beach and have always maintained a deep love for the outdoors. I am on my way to Australia to study marine biology and environmental policy in one of the most environmentally relevant countries in the world. And I was proud of myself for cleaning up the beach because my phone was dead.
This well-meaning but ultimately careless “hypocrisy” seems to fuel the debate over the climate change crisis, and the environmental crisis in general. Again and again, we read and hear things like: how am I supposed to take seriously leaders who preach reduction of fossil fuels, but fly by private jet?
I can’t pretend to know the answer.
My former neighbor, former Secretary of State John Kerry, spoke passionately at Georgetown regarding environmental issues, but kept a large black S.U.V. running outside of his house at all hours of the day. It would be a lie to say this inconsistency didn’t confuse me (at best.) But it would also be wrong to claim that this one drawback should negate or discredit all of the positive work Kerry has done.
With change so urgently necessary, and the consequences of our actions so imminent, it seems that only trying to be an environmental force for good is no longer good enough. But often it feels like there’s no right answer – most actions are seen as either too extreme for the masses to hop on board, or too “hypocritical” to gain any credit.
The cold, while not malicious, separation between the general consciousness of the masses and their environmental beliefs seems one of the most dangerous threats to our society moving forward. It’s typical to shed a tear at an environmental documentary and then head to the grocery store without bringing a reusable bag. Or to complain about Trump and then never phone local or state representatives with concerns and ideas. It’s not empathy we’re lacking, or even necessarily dedication. It’s the absence of practical integration of environmental solutions into daily actions and our general being.
As the gator sped away, I turned to Scotty, the third-year lifeguard sitting beside me. “Whoa, he’s right,” I mumbled. I spend every day outside staring at the ocean. As lifeguards, we are prohibited to bring anything – especially electronics - in the chair. So we spend four or more hours a day, phoneless, thinking and talking about anything under the sun, watching waves crashing and dolphins passing and plovers running on their skinny little legs. But it took a dead phone on my off-hour to actually see the tragically beautiful picture in front of me, and to be inspired to act. Yikes.
I’ll keep marching in Climate Marches and protesting outside the White House. I’ll keep studying Environmental Chemistry, Ecology and policy to better understand the current climate of the world and the technologies we will need to update and innovate moving forward. But I will also consciously put down my phone to live in the real world and fix some of the problems I see right at my feet. Our planet needs lofty innovations now more than ever. But it's small acts of kindness too. Because the mentality that throwing one bottle in the ocean wouldn’t matter is part of what got us here. So picking up those bottles, one by one – not because our phones are dead, or because we need to do a good deed today, but because it is our job, our inherent responsibility- will be part of the solution. Let’s get after it.