I can do better

I was mindlessly dawdling on Facebook last week, absorbing all sorts of trivial information, when I encountered a horrific image. There, among the clever status updates, YouTube videos and beach vacation photos, was something I was in no mood to see: an oil-drenched sea gull, utterly helpless and unable to move due to a thick coat of viscous brown muck. The animal appeared to be suffering and on the brink of death.

I instinctively looked away, then unleashed a string of expletives directed at the person who posted the disturbing photograph. What is wrong with you? Why are you posting this? I read the papers. I watch the news. I even get daily press releases updating me on the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. That said, I certainly don’t need such a cruel reminder of this environmental wreckage while enjoying a little frivolous online banter.

But rather than continue scrolling down the page in search of a lighthearted diversion, I was inexplicably compelled to look more closely at the sea gull washed up on the Louisiana coast. As I stared, my face puckered and my eyes began to burn — tears were imminent. I quickly closed my laptop to avoid a meltdown, but I could not shake the image.

For the first time since this catastrophe began with an oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers on April 20, I started to grasp the gravity of the situation: This disaster is going to get much worse, and exactly how and when the spill might be successfully contained — not to mention cleaned up — remains unclear. As of Day 50, anywhere between 25 million and 48 million gallons of oil had gushed into the gulf, destroying the natural habitats of hundreds of species and the livelihoods of those who depend on the coastal waters and beaches to earn a living.

It’s a grim reality that eclipses any selfish worries, like whether my plans for a summer beach getaway will be spoiled or how high gas prices might skyrocket.

Since last week, graphic images of animals injured or killed by the oil spill have become more prevalent. As it turns out, the news business has not completely desensitized me when it comes to death and destruction, and as a result, these photos only have compounded my sadness, disgust and anger.

I’m angry at BP for callously ignoring warnings of an impending explosion; at the federal government for allowing greedy corporations to act so recklessly; at President Obama for supporting the expansion of offshore drilling just weeks before this calamity; at anyone who ever uttered the cringe-inducing mantra, “Drill, Baby, Drill!”

There is ample blame to go around, and I believe this nation’s collective outrage is justified. However, I recently realized there was a glaring omission from my list of those deserving reprimand: me.

In this week’s issue of LEO Weekly, guest columnist Andrea Reed writes, “It’s a shame that despite concern for what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico, most people are either unaware or choose to ignore that their own behavior is intricately linked to this disaster … We never consider our own culpability in the ongoing destruction of our planet.”

Upon reading this line, I nodded in agreement, naturally excluding myself from the criticism. But the words struck a chord, and as I further considered the charge in the context of my own life, I concluded that I too am guilty, despite what I previously considered admirable efforts to be environmentally conscientious.

I rarely purchase water in disposable bottles — unless I’m really thirsty and accidentally leave home without my trusty Nalgene.

I have a stockpile of cloth grocery bags, which I almost always use — unless I forget, in which case I’ll begrudgingly take plastic out of “necessity.”

I work 2.2 miles from home, and will gladly ride my bike to the office — assuming it’s not raining, below 60 degrees, over 80 degrees, too humid, too windy, or a day on which I’m running late, too tired, or wearing a skirt and heels.

Despite proudly dragging my overflowing recycling bin to the curb each week, it turns out I’m not so very green after all.

But acknowledging a problem is the first step toward solving it, right? I know I can do better. I will do better. To start, how about I scale back the amount of recyclable waste I produce, rather than viewing my curbside mound of bottles, cans and newspapers as a bright orange badge of honor?