Just a thought

Recently I found myself engaged in several discussions about taking care of our environment as a matter of personal integrity, choice, and responsibility. One such conversation happened with a stranger in a training course I was attending.

The man works for the EPA. He looked to be in his early 30s. He jumped into a conversation I was having with someone else about hybrid vehicles. He said that he owned one and said the name of it, one I had not heard of. He said, “Yeah I traded my Prius in for something bigger because we’re thinking about kids.” Having them, that is. So when I asked, this guy explained that he’d purchased a hybrid SUV.

Hybrid SUV, yeah, I think it was the one that Kermit the Frog was plugging during the SuperBowl in 2006.

Now, maybe I am a bit uptight about gas guzzlers, but his statement that the thing gets about 32 miles to the gallon didn’t wow me. In fact, I was shocked that someone informed, someone that works at the EPA, would buy an SUV, regardless of its hybrid status. He was incensed. “Look, we did a lot of comparison shopping; fuel efficiency, leg room…”, but here my brain just froze. I was incredulous. Are you telling me this guy is arguing that he feels validated buying an SUV because of LEGROOM?

He then started trailing off about how he used to be an environmental activist…he was one of the first hybrid buyers…but so many people at EPA are just bureaucrats and what is the point…and his whole house is outfitted with compact fluorescents…

I kept my cool and stated in the most compassionate way I could muster that I believe it is important that each and everyone of us does our part. I know that we can all justify what we do with the whole balancing out argument: I wear fur, but don’t eat meat, I walk to work so I can fly all over the world 15 times a year…I can have 5 kids because they are all so amazing…it is very difficult to have a net zero impact, but we can make an effort in our consumption rates to act responsibly. It is the easiest step we can make. And the sacrifice? Well, is it really a sacrifice?

At the conclusion of the training class our EPA man went around the room collecting our plastic bottles in a bag, saving them from the trash. When he got to me he looked me in the eye, and, with a bit of cynicism, said, “I am taking my personal initiative here.” I was quite happy. Though he probably thinks I am a jerk, I hope my words helped jerk him back to center (or maybe alittle to the left).

Dr. Jennifer Veilleux is a geographer, writer, and artist. For more than a decade, she has worked on scientific research and security issues facing water resources shared across political boundaries. Research and curiosity has taken her to more than 50 countries on 5 continents, often to remote locations and marginalized communities. Veilleux takes portraits of people she encounters in her field work and recently released a collection, Portraits from Rivers of Change, that can be viewed here: www.jenniferveilleux.com. These portraits highlight two separate communities, one on the Mekong River the other on the Blue Nile River, facing relocation due to dam development. Dr. Veilleux works for Florida International University as a post doctoral associate for the Institute of Water and Environment and manages SELVA, the Serengeti-Lake Victoria Sustainable Water Initiative, a research project on water security of the Mara River in the Upper Nile basin of Tanzania. She maintains a blog, The Way of Water, dedicated to news and commentary about development on the Nile and Mekong, general water resources issues, and special topics related to women in science. She lives in Miami with her cat Mr. FC Sweet Tea.