It’s Blog Action Day! When I first heard about it, and read that this year’s topic is the environment, two vivid images immediately came to mind—the colectivos (city buses) in Buenos Aires that belch exhaust into the air here day and night, and the masses of plastic bags, plastic bottles, and other garbage I’ve seen along roadways, streams, lakes, and fields all over the world, from the U.S. to India. I also remembered how, years ago when I became a vegetarian (which I no longer am), the effort seemed rather futile—I wondered, What difference can I make? I still often feel that way, about many issues, but the increasing number of vegetarian/organic/etc. food that’s become available in the States in recent years is proof, I think, that one person’s choices—combined with a lot of other people making the same choices—can make a difference. At least, that’s what we all need to believe, and trust, if we’re going to save this world before it’s too late.
A quick web search (and a skim of some government documents using my middling Spanish) suggests at least a few people in Buenos Aires are thinking and talking about ways to reduce air pollution, noise pollution, and more in this noisy, dirty city. But I also read that BA doesn’t have an air-quality monitoring system in place, which it seems will hamper any efforts to truly improve air quality, and that “Like many major Latin American cities, Buenos Aires has struggled with little success to curb the level of automobile emissions through stronger regulations on automobile exhaust systems, planning for public transportation or the promotion of clean-vehicle technology. Most experts remain skeptical that Argentina will be able to fulfill its voluntary promise of 2%-10% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2010.” (I read this here, but a little more quick research didn’t turn up any reliable sources for this info.) And since the buses are all run by private companies, instead of the government, I imagine that will make it harder to get them to change their ways. Not to mention all the economic struggles this country has been through—is the environment really a priority for this and other cash-strapped countries?
And the other question in my mind is, what can I do about it, if the public transportation that I rely on—supposedly better than so many private cars—is one of the main culprits? And if the exhaust those buses creates sometimes makes walking less pleasant than being inside the belching bus, away from its fumes? A bus ride is really cheap here—on average 80 centavos, less than 30 US cents. I’d certainly be willing to pay a little more for a ride—if I knew the money was going towards purchasing electric buses, for example—but would anyone else cough up the extra dough?
It certainly seems that a lot of the environmental efforts we make in the States—recycling, reusing, etc.—hasn’t caught on here (and in a lot of the world), and from what I’ve seen definitely isn’t advertised as something hip, at least in the mainstream. On numerous occasions, when I remember to use my reusable shopping bag (similar to this one—thanks Mia!), people look at me strangely. I’m still trying to figure out if it’s because they don’t understand what I’m saying when I fumble through some version of “I don’t need a bag, I have my own,” or because the concept of using reusable bags is foreign to them. Yesterday, I finally made a breakthrough (maybe) with one checker at the supermarket I usually go to—I kept saying I didn’t want a bag, I have my own, etc. etc., and she kept reaching for the plastic. But when she saw me unfold the super-compact bag, she said, “Ah, ecológica! Que bueno!” Even so, there’s a huge pile of plastic bags threatening to take over my under-sink kitchen cabinet. Where are all those bags going to end up?
As a traveler, I’m also aware of the cycle of buying and throwing away plastic bottles that it’s easy to fall into, and that is an issue in so much of the world—even in places where it’s perfectly safe to drink the water. There are ways around this issue, of course, that don’t seem that hard to implement if we all make the effort—use water purifiers, either built into a reusable water bottle, a pitcher, or attached to the tap, and work to improve water sources around the world. And, in places like the U.S. and Argentina, just get used to the tap water!
Being in Buenos Aires, where there’s trash collection every day, and cartoneros (people who sort through the garbage looking for reusables and recyclables like plastic bottles and cardboard) often end up scattering trash far and wide, has also made me more aware of trash as a general issue. I think much more about what I throw away and where it’s going to end up. I remember reading about a man who reduced his garbage—maybe it was for a month?—to one regular-size plastic grocery bag. He was certainly a little obsessive about the whole thing, but we could all certainly stand to find ways to reduce our garbage. There are some helpful tips here, including buying things in bulk—with less or no packaging—and fixing or mending things rather than getting rid of them. Think about whether you’re “buying garbage” when you buy something new that has a lot of packaging, or some other part that you’ll just end up throwing away. Keep things longer, making do, so in the long run you’ll throw less away. By some people’s standards I should have replaced my falling-apart umbrella long ago, but it’s still keeping me dry, and I cringe at the thought of throwing it away—to go sit in a pile of garbage for hundreds of years—and buying another one.
As I’m writing this, I’m reminded of the Green Triangle, which I recently read about. The three points of the triangle are Environment, Health, and Money. If you make an action at one point of the triangle, it pretty often affects the other two as well. For example, if I decide to walk instead of taking the bus because I want to save money, it also happens to be better for the environment, and healthier, too. It’s pretty handy that making a difference for the environment can also make a difference in one’s health and finances.
Other Blog Action Day posts about the environment that I’ve enjoyed:
Bekka – did you know that antibacterial soap is bad for the environment?
Freelance Switch – since I’m working abroad, I already follow a lot of these tips on being an environmentally friendly freelancer
LifeHacker – do something simple—bring your own utensils to work instead of using the plastic ones in the lunch room!
Sexy Spanish Club in Buenos Aires – on how it’s possible to live a “greener,” more simple life here than in Portland, Oregon (I think this blog is actually where I first found out about Blog Action Day)
Zen Habits – this post syncs up with what I was saying about the Green Triangle