Late to the environmental party but making up for lost time…

Barbara Greenleaf
When we were growing up, there was an ethos of hard work: anything you produced of value would have to be serious and difficult to do. Throughout my life, I bought into that idea, big time. This was evident in my writing, which was long on research and short on personality. Then, in middle age, I discovered my funny bone with my book, This Old Body: And 99 Other Reasons to Laugh at Life, and I haven’t looked back since.

Recently, in Adventures in ECO Land: My Humorous Take on Going Green, I’ve applied a light touch to an uber-heavy topic, the environment. I’m not cavalier about global warming, but believe that people are more open to a message, especially an unwelcome one, when you’ve first brought a smile to their lips.

In an effort to do my part, I’ve started the grassroots organization ECO Team, which encourages individuals to make the small changes that help slow climate change and heal the planet. Collectively, these small changes add up to a lot. Also, I have found that once people put their foot on the sustainability ladder, they tend to keep climbing. ECO Team holds monthly meetings with outside speakers, takes field trips, and bestows our annual Ed Begley, Jr. Award to honor environmental pioneers.
I wrap my environmental messages in light-hearted vignettes like this one:
Clothes, Clothes Everywhere and Not a Thing to Wear
According to a survey of 1,000 women by the organizing company ClosetMaid, the average American woman has 103 items of clothing in her closet, but she wears only 10 % of the them. Apparently, she considers 21% unwearable, 33% too tight, and 24% too loose. (I don’t know what’s wrong with the remaining 12%, but for some reason she is neither wearing them nor giving them away.) Why don’t we purge? Studies show we justify holding onto clothes because a) they cost a lot, b) we have emotional ties to them, or, most commonly, c) we can’t face the decision necessary for winnowing.
And women may not be the worst offenders. Men tend to put the same laundered shirts and tees on the top of their clean pile week in and week out, yet they cling to the bottom of the pile as if those unworn coverings were religious relics. (“Relics” yes, “religious” no.) But far and away the biggest culprits in today’s consumer society are teenagers. In the 1950s Americans generally owned one pair of sneakers. Today’s teens own eight pairs on average and 30% of young adults buy a new pair every month. No wonder YouTube mavens are obsessed with utilizing every square inch of closet space in order to house all our clothing, shoes, and accessories.

Owning great amounts of wearables would merely be cause for a chuckle or a rueful tsk-tsk if it weren’t for the massive environmental impact of producing and dyeing all the necessary raw materials, fabricating them, distributing them, and then disposing of them. In fact, the fashion industry accounts for 10 percent of the world’s gas emissions. The toll on its low-paid workers is equally horrendous as manufacturers chase the cheapest needle to the ends of the earth, especially to the southern hemisphere.
I don’t think of myself as particularly acquisitive, yet when I recently took a clear-eyed look at my closet, I was appalled to see how much stuff was in there. These items must date back to the Before time because, during Covid, what did I wear beside a pair of ratty old nighttime pajamas and a pair of dressier daytime pajamas?

I’ve resolved to call a halt to my consumerism and reduce what ends up in the landfill —within reason. I’m finding there are a plethora of options for renting clothes: high end (Rent the Runway), budget (Nuuly), or vintage (20Age Archive). Here in Santa Barbara, there are also REI’s returned items, Goodwill’s donated items, and Renaissance’s consigned items. Finally, I am closing the clothing loop by giving away the usable things and driving the hopeless cases to the county recycling center, where they are turned into industrial rags.
I feel so virtuous with all this to-ing and fro-ing that I think I deserve to rent a halo. Maybe I’m a little behind the fashion curve as the halo was already passé during the Renaissance, but this testament to my attempts to live sustainably has a lot to commend it: a halo is lightweight, it adorns but doesn’t muss one’s hair, and it goes with everything. Best of all, when I’m done with it, I can pass along the halo to another sister-in sustainability. It’s a win-win for the wearers and, most importantly, a win-win for the environment.

Adventures in ECO Land: My Humorous Take on Going Green is available on Amazon in print and Kindle.

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3 Responses to Late to the environmental party but making up for lost time…

  1. Jane says:

    P.S. I meant to also mention that several years ago, I came across a lovely book of poetry on aging by Jimmy Carter. Shortly thereafter, I published a book of my Dad’s poems — all on aging — and most of them funny, if one can laugh at this stage in life. (I took care of my Dad for 15 years before he passed away 5 yrs ago at age 94.) Before Covid, I used to give Author Chats at local libraries about my father and his poetry. (I helped him publish several other books of his poems.) I donated profits from the sale of this particular book to a local non-profit organization that supported the elderly in need. And on top of all this, I sent Jimmy Carter a copy of my Dad’s book with a long letter. He typed me a thank-you letter, complete with a typo. I’m quite sure he responded himself.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to checking out your book.

  2. Jane says:

    LOVE this!

  3. Evelyn Eskin says:

    Nice piece, Barbara!

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