I AM AN ALIEN, I AM A LEGAL ALIEN, I AM A CONSERVATIONIST IN NEW YORK
It’s a busy day in the city, after all when isn’t it a busy day in the city? And not only in New York City, any city.
People come and go in a hurried rhythm, on either side of the walkways, in between the tall buildings, they cross at traffic lights, like a human river ready to carry you with it. Cars zip in and out of lanes; sirens blare in the background, some walkways are closed while construction to improve your services are happening, a cacophony of signs advertise locations of all sort, restaurants, bars, shops. More people walk in and out of these spaces, many carry shopping bags, other carry drinks to go, coffee cups and some alternate biting into their food to go and sucking from the straw sticking out of their to-go cup. A street vendor has a bouquet of balloons with superhero images on them floating in the wind. A mom stops to buy one for her young child.
The roads are littered with pieces of paper, plastic; some left behind trash bags. A beggar sits with his back to the wall on a piece of cardboard and the few possessions he moves around with. Everything moves at a fast pace, each individual seems disconnected from the next, yet working in perfect unison to make this chaos appear as well rehearsed.
A light rain drizzles over this scenario, hits the oil and gasoline covered road, picks up a few other elements and disappears through the man-made opening on the side of the road, transporting all these mixed elements underground, away from the eyes of the passerby and their minds. Where does all that water go? Where does it end up?
How many of these people remember that we are living on a planet that is 72% water? How many go about their day considering how the actions we conduct in this city, in any city, do affect the health and well-being of our oceans and their creatures? If they do, how many feel
that conservation requires to be present in the place we want to protect and preserve, that we need direct actions on the subject of our attention?
It is easy to see how a lifestyle conducted in a location distant from direct contact with the ocean could leave us feeling powerless in our capability to help its conservation. Nothing more opposite. If we read the definition of environmental conservation, we find out that it is an umbrella term that defines anything we do to protect our planet and conserve its natural resources so that every living thing can have an improved quality of life. Conservation is not an action conducted during one hour of our day; it’s not about completing a task that ends with the closing of the computer, conservation is a lifestyle to be followed.
We are all conservationists if we start to conduct our lives with an understanding that everything is connected. Thinking back about the water washing the streets of the city, we can follow its journey into the stream of water collected under the city to a nearby water table, a river, an underground reservoir, which in turn make their way to the coastline and ultimately to the ocean. Our daily actions affect our immediate reality as well as a distant one with consequences sometimes hard to identify.
How can we help if we live away from the ocean if we are not directly reminded of our impact but also of our capability to be part of the solution and not the problem? The key is to understand how there are consequences to our actions and adjusting them to minimize the impact. I am often asked how to help with the conservation of the ocean. Some of the possible solutions are very simple and easy for anybody and everybody to implement. The famous “reduce, reuse, recycle” goes a long way; we might not be able to do all three, but we can at least start with one.
Always carry a small shopping bag in your backpack or purse for the every-day small item shopping. Remind the cashier you don’t need a bag and use your personal one. If you plan shopping for the day carry numerous canvas shopping bags. This will reduce the amount of plastic bags used and will also facilitate the way you can transport your goods.
When eating out, be sure to ask the waiter no straw and a glass, not a plastic cup. You can carry your personal straw or simply drink from the glass directly. Reduce the amount of plastic water bottle you consume. Carry your own to be filled at water stations and when possible ask for tap water. It is interesting how we ask for bottled water for “safety reasons” but think nothing of using the ice in our cup to cool it down. If the ice is good to use, so is the water that made the ice.
Pick restaurants and eating places that use proper cutlery and plates or at least use paper and wood as materials for their cutlery and plates. Reduce the amount of take-out you order; carry your own container to store away your leftover if you know that for the majority of the time you never finish your meal. If you think it might be cumbersome to walk to the restaurant with such container, don’t forget that you are walking out of there with a container at the end of your meal, might as well carry one.
Pick restaurants with safe food choices. Ask questions about the origins of your food. If you eat seafood, there is a wonderful list you can follow published on seasafe.org to know which fish is not only unhealthy for you but also not sustainable for the ocean. Learn about seasons, understand that sometimes we must avoid eating certain foods to support more sustainable and local practices.
Carry your own coffee mug and find that special place willing to serve you their coffee in that mug. If that’s not possible, refuse the lid and use your mug to transport the coffee. One more cup has been used, but at least you saved on the plastic lid.
You can further your impact on the environment by selecting the products you purchase. When possible don’t put your shopping in additional plastic bags, groceries can be bought loose and stored directly in the canvas bags. Pick small local run markets over giant sellers for certain items, use bar soap, a bar shampoo and conditioner instead of products in plastic bottles. There are amazing products that are very good for skin and hair, and they don’t need to come in plastic bottles. On this note, I know it can be hard to find them, I have been on a plastic-free journey for a very long time, and it is proving at times impossible to accomplish, but small changes like bars have reduced the quantity of plastic I use.
Think about conservation regarding energy as well. Unplug all those little shiny lights staring at you in the apartment and house, each one of them not only increases your power bill but also continues to syphon energy. So when you are gone for eight hours of your day, those little lights still have an impact. I even unplug my water heater and plug it in for only ten minutes to warm up the amount of water necessary for the shower. Time your shower, if you spend more than twenty minutes under running water, consider reducing that time.
If you feel these actions are not enough, you can also start with more direct actions, right where you are. Consider reviewing the local laws on fish import and export. Educate yourself about which are sustainable and which should be addressed. Shark fins are a hot topic, and we always think they are an issue remote from us. After all, they only belong to a certain
culture, in the collective mind, it is something that happens in a different part of the world. Have we ever looked at the laws in our city, county, state? Are sharks protected? Are shark products allowed for sale? Is there anything in the legislation to protect sharks and derived products from being produced, imported, sold and consumed? We can start working on these local laws, educate restaurants about why it is not a good idea to serve shark products and kindly ask to remove the item. It is incredible to discover how much we don’t know that with a little explanation and gentle education, people are willing to change.
Talk with people, talk with young people, reach out to your local environment and ask for them to give you few minutes of their time. Start small, one small change at the time, one person at the time, expand as you grow and become more comfortable with your actions. Remember we are all star throwers and we can all make a difference.
“A man was walking on the beach one day and noticed a boy who was reaching down, picking up a starfish and throwing it in the ocean. As he approached, he called out, “Hello! What are you doing?” The boy looked up and said, “I’m throwing a starfish into the ocean.” “Why are you throwing a starfish into the ocean?” asked the man. “The tide stranded them. If I don’t throw them in the water before the sun comes up, they’ll die” came the answer. “Surely you realize that there are miles of beach and thousands of starfish. You’ll never throw them all back; there are too many. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The boy listened politely, then picked up another starfish. As he threw it back into the sea, he said, “It made a difference for that one.” – – – Loren Eiseley