Writing about green issues is one thing, but venturing out into the great wide open and getting in touch with my inner Ed Begley Jr. enviro-angelist self by interacting with my neighbors and fellow citizens of the South Bay beach communities of Southern California is where the rubber meets the road. Or where the Greenius meets the people who never read this blog and aren’t looking for my brand of creative.
I’m just some middle-aged moke in a Hawaiian shirt to them and they don’t really give a good cahoot whether I’m worried about climate change tipping points or how many parts per million of CO2 are in the atmosphere. Most of the time they just want to know if I’m going to help carry the boxes to and from the car.
For me, it’s a given that I need to volunteer my time for the causes and organizations I believe in on an on-going basis. I understand I have a responsibility to give something back for the blessings I enjoy and I know from experience that every time I do give back I enjoy more blessings – which is a hell of deal if you think about it.
Many times I even get a free lunch and bottle of water.
I like to volunteer at the Madronna Marsh here in Torrance. I especially dig – pun intended – doing plant restoration on my knees with my hands in the dirt. It makes me feel like I’m working in politics.
Last time I was there I was planting purple needle grass and California poppies. It’s a very small thing I do, but it makes me feel a sense of ownership and pride in the Marsh and I feel connected to that place every time I pass by or even read its name in the newspaper.
I tried volunteering in a few different capacities with my local Sierra Club chapter, but I didn’t groove on their insular preaching-to-the-already-converted tone and I didn’t respond well to the strident, old-guard style of communication and relating to people I encountered.
That’s a common problem with environmental and cause-related groups where everyone has drunk the Kool Aid so long ago that they’ve lost touch with the mainstream and don’t know how to communicate with average consumers or voters. They’re great at rallying the troops, but they’re not so great at recruiting fresh troops or making new folks feel welcome or necessary. It’s a people skills deficit.
But hey, the South Bay/Palos Verdes Chapter of the Sierra Club does a lot of terrific work and I’m awfully proud to be a dues paying member. Just don’t ask me to the next macrobiotic pot luck dinner, that’s all I’m saying. Peace be upon you my vegetarian brothers and sisters, but I like me some baby back ribs and beans with bacon too. I also like to laugh out loud and relate to contemporary popular culture – which doesn’t seem to jibe with many legacy club members.
There is one local group that I absolutely love volunteering for and I like the people there just fine – even though they have no idea who I am, what I do, or why I’m there. But that’s okay with me, because the South Bay Environmental Services Center (SBESC) does the kind of no spin, on-the-ground work I want to be part of. Its work that makes a real difference because it’s all about giving our local citizens free products and services that save them electricity or water. It’s that simple and it’s that effective.
I first met the folks at the SBESC office last November when I went to their office to exchange two strings of my old old fashioned 20th century Christmas lights for two strings of new LED energy efficient Christmas lights. I had been meaning to do this exchange a full year earlier when I first heard about it, but I flaked and never made it over there – proving that I am NOT a seamless Greenius.
I had been seeing the SBESC ads in my local newspaper for a while and knew they could help you with rebates on energy star appliances but I didn’t really have any idea who they were or what their deal was. Turns out they’re funded by our local electric, gas and water utilities with money we consumers pay in our monthly bills.
Once I dedicated myself to becoming the Creative Greenius I realized I needed to work with these people so I told them I wanted to volunteer and I also wanted to attend their Green Task Force meetings – – more about that later.
So on Saturday I spent five hours doing volunteer “outreach” as one of the SBESC table-people at the Del Amo Community Health and Safety Fair giving out free compact fluorescent light bulbs, signing people up for free low flow shower heads and passing out information on saving energy and water. I enjoyed every moment
This was a smaller event put on by a terrific grassroots neighborhood group, the Del Amo Action Committee representing about 400 working class homes and fighting for their environmental justice. I met a lot of good people from the neighborhood and they were more appreciative than most to get the light-bulbs.
I talked to one of the organizers of the event who told me about the Superfund site on the other side of the fence behind our booth. The things you discover when you leave your own property…
Likewise I had an enlightening conversation with the guy from the EPA doing outreach at their booth right next to ours. I started off by busting his chops about his agency’s recent abandonment of its role to protect the environment in favor for its new role as a lackey for the Bush Cheney anti-science pro-carbon agenda on behalf of the biggest greenhouse gas producers in America. But the guy was good natured about it and then politely set me straight about a couple things I hadn’t thought about before.
First off, he told me, unlike the IRS or several other government agencies, the people like him who come to work for the EPA, do so with a passion for the agency’s real mission to protect our environment. Most of them got their degrees in environmental studies in order to make their careers about doing the right thing. So it kills them to have their agency politicized and kept from doing its job. Secondly, he told me, he worked for the Superfund site group and no one is accusing them of shirking their responsibility or ignoring the important work they have on their table – like the group that works in the emissions area.
Talking to this guy gave me some hope and a much more realistic perspective. It was a good reminder – which I apparently need on a regular basis – to not judge everyone within a agency or group by the actions of the people at the top. Many of them are gnashing their teeth and counting the days till a change in administrations. Realizing all the nuances about the situation isn’t as much fun as demonizing the whole EPA team, but it’s a lot more cognitive way of thinking – and it’s hard to be a creative greenius without that superpower.
I had a great time a few weeks back when I did similar outreach at the El Segundo Environmental Expo with a whole different demographic and a few weeks before that at the Palos Verdes Street Fair with its very upscale demographic. Three very different neighborhoods and types of crowds.
But regardless of the socioeconomic makeup of the people we’re outreaching too, they all share one thing in common. They don’t want to hear about climate change consequences or ending the carbon-based economy or renewable energy options and the smart-grid.
People are generally overwhelmed and tired. They’re completely immersed in their daily lives and the never-ending, inescapable challenges of raising their families, making ends meet, earning a living, dealing with health issues and trying to have a little fun and forget about their responsibilities every once in a while.
Sometimes a free light bulb, a smile and a compliment on their goofy-looking hat is all that it takes.