A few months ago I was having a routine beer with my good friend Ken, who is the director of our local sustainable business network. He had met with one of the business people that belonged to his network earlier in the day and was caught off guard by a question. “What do we do next?” I think it’s a question on the tongues of many of us in the environmental and sustainability movements. Our light bulbs have been changed, our toilets are low flow, every square inch of our yards are vegetable gardens and solar panels adorn our roofs. We have made all of the right choices in our lives to ensure a better world for our children and grand children, yet that isn’t what seems to be manifesting.
Sometime during our second round of beers, Ken said to me, “The environmental movement is kind of like the Ninja Turtles arcade game. The first level is easy. All you have to do is kick the bad guys once and they go down. But then, in the second level, you have to kick them twice before they fall. The first level of environmentalism is changing your own habits. We’ve learned how to kick. What do we do next? How do we kick twice?”
A few weeks after this conversation, I was sitting in my office at work while the biggest wildfire in my state’s recorded history was raging on our back doorstep and the federal government had just declared that nearly half of the country qualified for natural disaster relief due to extreme drought conditions. It got me thinking how my work place could cut back on how much water it uses, particularly in our restroom sinks. I checked out the faucets in the restroom and sure enough, etched onto the side of the aerator was 5 GPM, gallons per minute. If left running for a minute, five gallons would be washed down the drain. I knew that was too much, especially given the drought conditions, and that these could easily be replaced by .5 GPM aerators and at extreme inexpense to the company.
So I went online, did a price check, calculated how much water could be saved if we switched all 50 of our faucets to these low flow aerators, and was shocked to find that we could save 100,000 gallons of water every year by making the switch. I wrote up a quick proposal, sent it to our maintance department, and later that day my company had made a bulk purchase of .5 GPM aerators.
Ken and I decided to celebrate my eco-warrior victory over a couple beers. Sometime during our second round of beers, he said, “Tom, you’re a real change maker.” I had never heard the term before, but I liked it. I had taken what I learned from making changes to my own life and applied it to something larger in scope. It wouldn’t occur to me for a while, but that day I learned how to kick twice.
If we really want to win this fight, we all need to become change makers. You know what your community’s challenges and needs are better than any leader in the environmental movement. A few weeks ago, I met a man named Chris from a litter cleanup group called The Community Project – Rockford. Rockford Illinois has been on the top ten list for most violent cities in the US for a while now. Chris grew up in Rockford and now has kids of his own. Instead of calling it a loss and moving someplace safer for his family, he decided to make his stand right there in Rockford. He assembled a small group of concerned citizens from the community, got a van, and set out to clean up Rockford. They recognize that this is an uphill battle, but it wasn’t enough to stay at home and wait for a local leader to address the problem. Because of their work, everything from from a pile of used needles to pesticide containers have been disposed of properly and that community is a little bit safer for their children.
You don’t need to be a politician or a multi-million dollar non profit group to be an environmental leader. All you have to do is step up and take ownership of your community’s challenges. That’s how you win the title of change maker. That’s how you kick twice. That’s how we’re going to win our future.
Tom Nelson is a 24 year old college dropout from Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is the administrator for Give a Shit about Nature, a social media hub on facebook geared toward sharing stories of environmental stewardship and being inspired by the stories of others. In his spare time, Tom enjoys cycling, hiking, and sampling locally brewed beers. His favorite color is blue.