When you are “woke” to the issues of plastic pollution, all the sudden it becomes painful to see the world use a material so harmful to the environment and human health so causally. For those of us who are in the “woke” category, we have to employ a lot of patience towards those who have not woken up to this issue just yet. From my estimation we the “woke” are less then 3% of the of the population. While it is hard to really know who the “woke” are from those who are not I looked up a few different things to see if I could determine how many are “woke”.
First I looked up who and what causes the average person gives to charity. About 5% of all charity donations is given to environmental causes and only a fraction of this is dedicated to plastic pollution. If you compare this with the charities that got the most donations, religion at 35 %, and education at 14 %, the environment is not getting much attention from the average do-gooder. Before writing this blog I looked up how jobs on idealist. org are for environmental nonprofits or activism in Washington DC – 47 jobs. That’s it. A load of internships and volunteer opportunity, but actual paid jobs as of today July 2019 is 47. I then looked up my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio – where I spent most of childhood and college years. They had exactly 17 jobs dedicated to environmental activism.
There are very few professionals working in environmental activism. How much do these few environmental activism jobs actually get paid was the next question I googled. A Program Coordinator at a environmental nonprofit on average only makes $42,000 per year and the average Assistant Program Coordinator per year earns $31,037. I made more as a teacher than the average Environmental Activist.
What I did not include in my research were government jobs like the EPA or NOAA. Why did I exclude this from my research? Because the core of job of the EPA or NOAA is to gather data and enforce laws like the Clean Air Act and the Safe Water Drinking Act. However to get the Clean Air Act into law you need Activists from Environmental nonprofits. The EPA cannot function without the many underpaid, overworked hours of the environmental nonprofits, like Greenpeace and Sierra Club pushing for environmental laws being passed.
The most recent example I personally have of this is getting plastic straws outlawed in the city of DC. I along with 50 volunteers from the Sierra Club and Howard University decided to walk to restaurant to restaurant in DC, requesting they switch from plastic straws to paper straws. Later 5 different nonprofit environmental groups testified in front of DC council on outlawing plastic straws and it worked. Now its a part of someone’s job in the DC Government to enforce this law.
Why does plastic pollution and climate change get so little interest from donations to volunteers to various environmental nonprofits? One major reason could be that less then 2% of our overall formal education focuses on climate change. Despite how many times the news talks about climate change, its job is not to educate the general population about the root causes. That would have to be the job US Department of Education, who sets the national curriculum. Maybe we can get the US Department of Education fearless leader Betsy DeVos on that. JUST KIDDING. Sometimes I wonder if Betsy DeVos, who Trump dubs as “Ditsy Betsy” would actually be able to obtain a High School Diploma by today’s rigorous standards. I think she was lucky to be born in a more lenient time.
Sorry to digress. Back to plastic pollution. If I reflect on my own personal journey I was a full grown 35 year old women before it occurred to me that we were in a urgent crisis over the overuse of plastic. Its not surprising that I did not realize what dire straights we were in, with our plastic use, because it was not taught to be through my formal education, parents, or peers. No one in my world seemed to take note of the alarming overuse of plastic.
So how did I get “woke”? I was a high school teacher wanting to teach my students about recycling. A little google search on recycling brought up a millions articles on plastic pollution. All the sudden I started to feel an awakening happening inside of me, like a spiritual calling. It felt like my eyes were opening for the first time to the cult of consumerism driven by the cheap prices of plastic. Some things I learned as I started to read more about plastic pollution was that recycling plastic is hard and rare, as its a low quality material to began with, melting it and reconstructing is hard. Learning that fact made me understand that the only way to stop plastic pollution is to plainly stop using it.
Recycling is like diet Coke. Sure Diet Coke has less sugar, and calories, but not drinking the Coke in the first place is actually the real answer to a healthier life. Plastic pollution is different than any charity work I have ever done. Working on plastic pollution issues made me put a huge mirror to my face about my mindless consumer habits. With Plastic pollution, I was not helping other people in need, I was the person in need. In need of editing my own overuse of plastic.
I remember before I was “woke” I had ordered 10 helium balloons for my son’s first birthday. I never wondered where all the plastic came from, much less where it would end up. Even if I were deflate all those balloons and put them in a trash can to be carried to a landfill it could still end up in the ocean, within months of using that balloon. How? Well anything lightweight, like single-use plastic, can and has flown off of dump trucks, trash cans, and landfills. Then when the broken pieces of that balloon are in our neighborhoods and streets, it eventually gets washed down the storm drains, located on every street in America. The storm drains are technically there to help streets from flooding. Those storm drains are connected to creeks and rivers that eventually end up in the ocean. These broken pieces of plastic look like food to our marine life, and have helped run some of our marine life into extinction. Extinction is not what most people think of when they buy a balloon.
If you are the “woke” and are the only person you know that carries around your own spoon, fork, and straws to cut down on your plastic use, you are large part of the solution. Studies show that people do not change behavior based on reading an article about plastic pollution, studies show that people are more likely to consider changing their behavior if they know someone who is trying to reduce their plastic use. I saw this when I became a vegetarian. When I became a vegetarian in the mid 90’s in Ohio, it was impossible to eat out. Restaurants did not have many options. Now that more people have adapted to a vegetarian lifestyle every restaurant I go too has great options for vegetarians.
People who are “woke” do not have an easy job in front of them, but this deep spiritual calling will only rise you to a better place. Some unexpected benefits are the wonderful friendships that I have made from volunteering at the Sierra Club. Also, another benefit is that my husband and I never give each other tangible gifts. To avoid plastic we just give each other experiences. My husband surprised me with theater tickets to see Hamilton in NYC one year. It turned out to be one of Lin- Manuel Miranda’s last shows. I know being “woke” is hard, but good karma is with you.