You know the scene from “Bruce Almighty” where Jim Carrey removes all his clothes in one dramatic flick of the arms, leaving him just in his pants?
Well, I think my teenage son undresses in the same way, because his clothes are left in piles that would indicate a disrobing practice of this nature. His bedroom floor is consistently invisible beneath a scattering of garments and books.
Oh, who am I trying to impress? There are no books!
Yesterday morning, zombie-like, in my pajamas, I picked up his clothes, dragging them into the washing basket before mechanically scooping them into the washing machine drum. I was on autopilot, thinking about the programme I had watched the night before about climate change.
As I loaded in four T-shirts, three sweatshirts, and one pair of jeans, I thought of images of polar bears balancing on tiny icebergs and the terrifying rate of glacier shrinkage. The loading continued with two pairs of joggers, shorts, socks, and more socks. Every item bought just last week. Every item worn only once.
I went about my jobs, thinking about how we could reduce our plastic usage, and as I was pegging the last odd sock to the washing line, I paused as if waking from a deep sleep and actually said, out loud, “What the f*ck?! Teenagers are really bad for the environment!”
The “Throwawayism” Epidemic
Waste is just one word I think of when I consider my sons’ impact on the environment. “Throwawayism” is a disease both my boys suffer from; easy come, easy go.
Single use? Great! Perfect!! That means I don’t have to clean it up!
If they could eat all their meals on plastic plates with plastic cutlery, they so would. They could literally open a bin liner and clear the table with one sweep of the arm.
And boy, can they grow! I can’t really expect my 15-year-old to keep wearing his trousers from last year. They are six inches too short already, and in four months the latest stuff I bought him will once again be obsolete. We pass it on to charity via son number two, but it’s all generating more production and more pollution.
And don’t get me started on food! They are like little T. rexes (without the short arms)—carnivorous beyond reason. I would happily be vegetarian, but the boys refuse to play along. Meat must be on the menu or they dive mouth-first into a cereal packet.
So, I conclude that the only way to save the planet is to get rid of all teenagers.
Okay, maybe not. But it does make me feel completely helpless in the fight against climate change. Like, what does it matter which bin I put my plastic toothbrush in if our clothes consumption is funding global destruction?
I googled “carbon footprint” last night to find out just how bad we are, and I found a carbon footprint calculator. It calculated that we are single-handedly going to end the world. Well, it didn’t exactly say that, but it did suggest that we could certainly make some significant changes to lessen our impact on the planet.
And so, this morning I awoke to day one. Day one in our eco-recovery programme.
ODAAT: One Day At A Time
I quit drinking last year. In the social media world of “recovery,” there are some very common hashtags, and one of the them is #ODAAT, which for those in the know means, “One Day At A Time.”
It’s an excellent way to think of changing any habit. Whenever I thought of the weeks and months that stretched before me, I started to freak out. The endless, wineless future seemed impossible to conquer. One day at a time, however, is manageable.
If we think about saving the planet, it feels impossible. If little old you could save the planet, then of course you would—but it’s too big an ask. So, most of us don’t bother at all. We just hope someone else, some eco-warrior who knits her own sanitary towels, is going to do it for us. But guess what? We all need to do it, and we need to get cracking because things are getting worse, not better.
So today we start our new family eco programme: Family Mostly United Against Climate Change. (I added the mostly because it’s realistic, and if there’s one thing I know about teenagers you need to be realistic.)
The Small Changes We Can All Make Now
I’m ditching plastic toothbrushes, harmful cleaning products, all plastic bags, and I’m fixing up my push-bike. Those are four things that I can do now to make a big difference. But what about the teenagers?
Next time I see a bedroom light left on, I’ll call upon the guilty party to discuss climate change and the effects on the walruses. Now, I don’t really know what I’m talking about when it comes to climate change, but I do know that teenagers will do anything to get out of such “chats.” Soon, the light being left on will be associated with discomfort and ennui. You see, you have to stay battle-focused with teenagers. Winning the war is a distant ideal, and right now we’re just working one day at a time.
I’m also going to praise the boys when they do something that’s good for the environment. For example, they both cycle to school. This is excellent and saves a lot of fossil fuel emissions. Just making this point is creating awareness of the choices they make and will be a nice change to my nagging.
Also, we won’t eat meat every night. We’re sinners, no question, because a vegan diet is probably the best for the environment, but we need to make baby steps in this household. No point in starting a grand gesture that can’t be maintained. My husband will be the first to revolt!
Big Changes We Can All Make Now
Questioning corporations about ingredients and packaging goes a long way these days. Diageo, Pepsi, Adidas, and Guinness are all companies who have responded to pressure to get with the environmental programme. Eco is trending, and sustainability is so millennial! If we all make enough noise about it, then the corporations listen—eventually. It doesn’t happen overnight, but we will get there.
And you know who loves arguing with authority? Teenagers. Let’s get them on board with the fight.
Stop using plastic that will just go into a landfill or end up in a whale’s gut! This is a massive issue, and it’s not one we can fix immediately. Each time you are presented with a plastic or non-plastic option, you know which one to choose. Consider beeswax wraps or their vegan counterparts as a plastic cling wrap alternative. Giving your kids their sandwiches in non-plastic food containers is setting a great example and sparks a conversation.
Teenagers Are the Next Generation of Policy Makers
It’s going to be down to them to see this through.
Sure, my bad example so far will hopefully cause a rebellion in my kids who will soon be telling me off for wearing animal products, but I can’t sit back and rely on that happening. I need to get this ball rolling now, and I need to change my ways.
Start small and take each day at a time. Your teens will come with you, and together you’ll learn loads. Seeing my family unit as a mini army in the war against climate change is empowering. Maybe you could look at all the things that you could do as family and see what ideas crop up.
From this environmental sinner on a new journey, good luck and Godspeed!