you are generation green!
When I was a kid, I didn't know that we were more environmentally conscious greener than my friends' families. I just thought everybody lived like we did, and there weren't a whole lot of other people around to tell me otherwise. From age four until I was nine my parents raised me in the woods in northern New Mexico, where we lived on hundreds of acres of raw land. My folks built our house themselves, which was 100 percent solar-powered. (Mom even juiced her laptop from the sun.) We lived "off the grid," meaning we weren't connected to the electrical system or public utilities. We didn't need an alarm clock; we just went to sleep after it got dark and woke up with the sun. It was so far away from everything that friends always got lost trying to find us down the maze of dirt roads. I loved it, even though we had so few of the things most kids take for granted working toilets, indoor heating, phones, trash pickup, a dishwasher. If we wanted water, we couldn't just turn on a faucet; we had to catch it from the roof did you know you can save hundreds of gallons from a single summer afternoon's storm? or lug it in five-gallon jugs from a well a quarter of a mile away. Water was so precious we'd even catch the morning dew in our tank.
As a five-year-old I used to help my folks chop up dead wood for heat with a small ax. That was a blast, and I never even got a nick. When my friends visited, Mom would take us on treasure hunts, looking for deer and moose tracks, and arrowheads. That was all great, but I had to use an outhouse for forever, which was a total drag. We had empty jars stored under the kitchen sink that we used for those "late night" emergencies when I didn't want to go outside in the pitch-dark and walk the thirty feet in the freezing cold to use the outhouse. And without a heater (can you say 22 degrees in the living room at three a.m.?) if I used one of those jars in the middle of the night in the wintertime, by morning the contents were often frozen. Okay, pretty gross, I know. T.M.I.
Living in a forest and being so close to nature changes you. I used to run for hours in the woods with my siblings ha, really my pack of dogs so townspeople called me Mowgli the Jungle Boy. Sometimes I'd put newborn puppies into my pockets to keep them warm while I went out walking in the snow. Life in New Mexico taught me so many things. Like how precious our natural resources are. You become a homegrown expert in low-impact living because being even a little wasteful in that environment feels all wrong like wearing a tuxedo to a hip-hop concert. Some things just don't go together.
We bought our land from a Native-American medicine man who lived in a small makeshift cabin nearby. We lived next to his tepee and his inepi an igloo-shaped contraption where he did these amazing sweat lodge ceremonies. The medicine man taught us to "walk lightly" on Mother Earth and ponder the thoughts of plants and rocks, "who had seen so much." He taught us to think about how everything we do affects future generations perhaps the most important lesson passed down to him from his elders. It's easier to learn that lesson when you're surrounded by grass and brown earth and can literally see your own footprints.
We saw so many different approaches to caring for the earth in rural New Mexico but also so many contradictions. The medicine man said that he wanted nothing but a can of beans every day and a tepee to live in, and that he dreamed of going totally back to nature but when he got a gas generator, he always had his TV blaring the news. The consique (tribal spiritual leader) of the Taos Pueblo, "Grampa" Pete Concha, told us he feared for our safety every time we went to "the outworld" Los Angeles, where Mom and Dad had to go for work (Mom's a writer and Dad's an actor). But wasn't our favorite city also sacred by just being part of the earth? I was confused. When we first moved to New Mexico, the locals didn't immediately trust our good intentions, calling us "Hollywood" and "Easy Money" and "Indian Wannabes." We had to work hard to fit in and convince them that we cared about the land and their ways as much as they did. Sometimes it felt like we were living in two worlds.
When I was in fourth grade, we moved back to a suburb of Los Angeles so my dad could be closer to his acting auditions and Mom could do press for her first book. Then I really did have to figure out how to live in two worlds! I remember being psyched about the running water turning the faucet in the bathroom on and off...how totally easy! It was around that time I quickly figured out that, unlike my dad, I was a city dude and loved living a more comfortable lifestyle. Flush toilets are the shizz! Mom and I are more alike in that way, but we're so grateful for our years living in the forest, for the seasons we spent living simply in the middle of so much natural beauty. It's too remote for more than brief visits right now, but that experience stays with you no matter where you go, kind of the way I imagine taking a long safari in Africa would. Or going to the moon.
Each day I find myself playing a balancing act in both of my lives. I love the best of what our modern world provides (like indoor toilets and heaters), but I don't want to stress out the planet to live my life.
I'm guessing you're doing that same balancing act. You're worried about pollution and global warming and running out of resources, but you also love your five pairs of designer jeans and daily custom-built Frappuccinos. I feel ya. And maybe it seems like global warming and other world problems are so big and "out there" that they barely touch you and it's not like you'll ever live on a melting glacier. But really, those problems and their ripple effects are closer than you think.
For instance, do you love going to the beach? If so, have you noticed the litter? Here on the West Coast they're always closing the beaches because bacteria-laden raw sewage keeps showing up in the water. Ugh, is anything more disgusting? According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, sewage spills and overflows caused 1,301 national beach closing and advisory days in 2006. Another fourteen thousand closing and advisory days were due to unknown sources of pollution. Ugh. On a good day you're cruising along the shore looking for seashells and you find a ton of plastic bottles instead. It's not only gross, but it's bad news, because those plastics don't biodegrade. They just break down into tinier and tinier pieces until they turn into a kind of toxic dust that the fish eat and then we eat the fish! Some scientists think there are six times as many of these microplastics in the oceans as plankton, which is one of the most important food supplies to aquatic life.
If you're not into the beach, maybe you love skiing or snowboarding. You can see signs of the ripple effects there, too. Thanks to rising global temperatures and record droughts, the snowpacks are often weak and unpredictable, and the ski season can end before it even seems to get rolling. Perhaps you have asthma, and pollution is making you wheeze? Or you're sick of all the rain. Or you aren't getting enough rain. Or you just want to go play sports without sucking down thick brown air. Maybe you live on the coast and everyone around you is nervous. It makes you wonder if the house you grew up in will be on dry land by the time you have your own kids.
So maybe it's starting to hit home that all this environmental stuff isn't really "out there." It's right in our own backyards, all around us. It's hard to believe, but while we were working on this very book, Mom and I had to pack up two cars' worth of our belongings and our dogs and cat in an hour and flee a raging wildfire at the top of our hill. And then, as we were finishing up the last chapters, Mom got stuck in the middle of a storm with eighty-five-mile-an-hour hurricane winds! It's as though Mother Nature's trying to make a statement here as if to warn us that she needs our cooperation! I've been reading about how fires and hurricanes and other extreme weather events are indications that the environment is stressed out, out of balance. Sure seems so. It's really gotten me thinking even more about what my friends and I can do to lighten our impact.
A lot of people think that teens are too self-involved to care about global issues. Sure, if your dad and mom are fighting or your ex-best friend is going out with your ex or your family cat just had to be put to sleep or you flunked your last math test, okay, you're going to worry more about that stuff than about a melting glacier thousands of miles away. At least for that day or week or month.
But that doesn't mean we don't care. I'm convinced we do. We're just not sure what to do next. My mom and I have a theory. We think both teens and adults are waiting to be asked to do more. We're expecting someone in power to ask us to step up, to sacrifice for the greater good. Like the Greatest Generation did during WWII when people rationed everything they used. Back in the 1940s people really appreciated the smallest things and found uses for everything. (My grandma took the burlap from flour sacks and made them into dish towels can you imagine?) I think teens today are just as willing to do our part; maybe we simply need a little more information and a little more motivation.
So that's why Mom and I are doing this book; it's our way of inviting everyone to step up and become our own Greatest Generation: Generation Green. We may not have gotten ourselves into this mess, but let's face it, our elders are hoping we find the solutions. So let's do it. Let's surprise everyone. Do you have anything better to do? Okay, don't answer that. Video games and texting BFFs don't count!
This book can help you get started. You'll be reading about a lot of different ideas here that you may not have heard before. We're not scientists, but we're passionate and a bit wacky, and we love to research and write about all the options. We'll introduce you to teens and several celebrity friends who are doing some really great things for the environment, as well as people we just find very inspiring. We'll share our favorite tips for greener living, ideas that can help you change your family, your town, or even a law or two. Whether you want to lead your family in green style, or organize group events at your school (hey, not bad on the college applications), or just do a little more to do your part, you'll find it here. It's a big world, and there's a lot to cover!
As you read on, maybe think about the person you might want to become for the rest of your rockin' and hopefully very long life! Think about what kind of contributions you could make, both large and small at home and in the world. There are so many tiny, creative steps you can take every day to lessen your impact on the earth. Like wrapping a friend's present in newspaper comics instead of buying expensive gift wrap that gobbles up resources and energy in order to make it. Or like taking your lunch to school in a cool vintage lunch box you scored on eBay instead of tossing out another paper or plastic baggie. Or holding on to your cell phone a little longer instead of automatically upgrading to the hippest model and relegating your old one to a landfill somewhere (even though we know you'd recycle yours!).
Ask yourself what kind of career could you go into that would fill a valuable need (maybe even make you a hero) and set you up for a great life? If you have no idea, keep reading, because as temperatures skyrocket, water tables drop, sea levels rise, populations expand, and pollution worsens, ingenuity, technologies, and a gazillion job opportunities will emerge that you'd never have thought up in your craziest, most whacked-out imaginative moments. Or maybe you will think of them....
There'll be some big bumps in the road, no doubt. But the possibilities, too, are endless. Although it can be tempting, I don't want to go into denial and hide in my room playing Final Fantasy with the best of them. No, I don't intend to go down so easily. Because I've seen with my own eyes how little changes add up to big changes.
Guess I've got Mom to thank for that. She's kind of a maniac about all this stuff; she's definitely the only mom I know who takes the green water out of the salad spinner every night from lettuce she grows in our backyard and waters the houseplants with it. Her mother, my Grams, used to water their yard with recycled laundry water. When it rained, their front lawn would be covered in suds. How embarrassing is that? Sometimes I just have to shake my head. I've never seen anyone else in the whole world air-dry old recycled paper towels and use them to pick up dog poop on a walk. I'm not as gung ho as she is, but I've adopted some of her cooler habits. I'm working hard on myself to live a greener life, and hopefully I can influence others by my example. If you do that too, how tight would that be? We'll all watch this thing turn around together.
The important thing is, we've got to be patient with ourselves. Don't pressure yourself. You've already got enough stress up in your grill no doubt. Here's the thing: You're used to school, where there aren't a lot of do-overs unless your parents write you a major note. You blow a test or bomb a paper, and you don't always get a second chance. Same with striking out in the big game. But this isn't the SATs or the baseball championships no one's keeping score. In the real world, there are a lot of second chances. And here's the thing about being green: It's never all or nothing. Every day you can start again, make other choices better ones. If you have to buy a bottle of water because you forgot your "eco" version from home, just reuse the plastic bottle a few times and recycle it when you're done. Every little thing you do matters. Your goal is to make small changes you can stick with, not to go bat-guano crazy trying to do everything green and then burn out in a week.
I think that's why Mom doesn't get mad when I space out and forget to unplug my cell phone charger, or drive a mile somewhere instead of taking my bike, or toss clean clothes into the hamper because I didn't feel like hanging them up and they got dirty on the floor. She gets that sometimes it takes a while for a new green habit to sink in, and that we just need to keep trying and we'll get there.
And she's taught me not to be a "green bore" either lecturing my friends about how they shouldn't do something. I did that once with my buds when they littered out the car window one day and I was so mad we nearly got into a fistfight! It took us two very tense days to get over it. Just walk your talk. Your buddies will come around. Mine have.
One day at a time. Just do what you can, and that's cool. It gets easier as you go. If we're all doing little things, day in and day out it will really add up, even if we're not perfect. It's all good.
Mom and I hope this book will inspire you to do what we're doing: to try our best to see the world with new eyes. Green eyes. So, take the stories, tips, suggestions, facts, and ideas laid out here and let them sink in and reframe your vision, like colored contact lenses. And visit our website, www.generationgreenthebook.com, often for new, updated, fun information on what teens like you are doing to green up their lives. And write to us and let us know how it's going what cool ideas you come up with. Maybe we'll profile you on our site, or include a story about you in our next book!
Tosh Sivertsen Los Angeles, California 18 years old
Copyright © 2008 by Linda Sivertsen and Tosh Sivertsen