The sun set slowly over Salt Lake City on a recent visit. The Wasatch Mountains towered over the valley in the distance. It was nice to be outside, to be walking—to be breathing in the crisp air that is all but extinct in most of America’s big cities. I walked slowly, deliberately, while the cracked, dirty sidewalk guided me across streets and driveways. I looked at the mountains and the trees, the buildings, and the occasional fast food bag lying in the grass, and felt a sudden sense of remorse for being part of a problem that seems to be all but out of control.
I started to notice the chewed gum and cigarette butts next to the curb. I saw the oil stains on the street. I heard the sound of honking horns and exhaust brakes in the distance, and ominously wondered how long we could continue to live like this before our lives came to a screeching halt. It seemed that everywhere I looked, there were tragic signs of takers taking, but no evidence of the opposite.
A car with a modified exhaust raced by me, causing me to jump, and it dawned on me how arrogant we are as a people. Not only do we build machines that spit pollution into the air at alarming rates and volumes, but we’re proud of it. We let the universe know by amplifying the noise we make doing it. We pollute with our problems and we pollute with our solutions, and it’s our polluted thinking that got us to this point in the first place.
I’ve begun to feel the gravity of our problems in a way that has left me angry, embarrassed, and convinced that I need to take some personal responsibility. I need to be held individually accountable. I need to make changes.
I’ve been haunted by the fact that if everyone lived like me, we would need many earths to sustain ourselves. I’ve been compelled to start looking at areas of my life where I can make changes. In the past, I’ve wasted. I’ve littered. I’ve left lights on all night, and water running for no reason, eaten foods that have traveled thousands of miles, and used thousands of gallons of fuel to merely satisfy a craving. I’ve been a considerable part of the problem, but have done little to be part of the solution.
So I’m changing. Slowly but surely, I’m beginning to make the adjustments needed to be more solution-based and less taker-like. I’ve started to pay attention to where my food is coming from and how it gets to my plate. I’ve started to seek out more localized and organic meats and produce. I’ve started recycling, riding a bike more, and no longer accept plastic bags for any reason. I’ve made a conscious effort to turn off the water and the lights when they’re not directly in use—it’s really quite amazing how much we waste when we simply don’t care. I’ve realized that change really does have to start with me.
Well-known environmentalist David Foreman, the co-founder of the radical environmental advocacy group Earth First!, once said, “Our environmental problems originate in the hubris of imagining ourselves as the central nervous system, or the brain, of nature. We’re not the brain; we are a cancer on nature.” I hope he’s not right, but I’m scared that he just might be. I know that ridding my life of the habits I’ve spent years perfecting isn’t going to happen overnight, or with one peaceful walk through a city. But I’m certain that opening up my eyes to the true problems facing us, and admitting that I’ve been a part of them for far too long, is a step in the right direction.
— Editor’s Note: Tim has been a busy man and we’d like to reward him for it. You can easily follow him on Twitter @TimHillegonds. You can enjoy his Shady Dreams at timhillegonds.com/blog/. And check out his latest book: Vodka Flavored Tears. For additional links and more information, click here. YEP certainly gets fired up when people put in the work. Tim is doing just that.