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If We Were 5 Years Old, We Would Know How to Protect the Environment

2008 April 29

About the author: Viccy Salazar joined EPA in 1995. She works in our Seattle office on waste reduction, resource conservation and stewardship issues.

Everyday, I try to teach my kids not to waste, to share, to do unto others, to pick up after themselves, to take only what they really need… you get the picture. The great thing about kids is that they really want to do those things and they want to be nice and fair about how they interact with their friends. kids As I was thinking on Earth Day, I was thinking how these are the exact same lessons that we need for environmental protection. We can protect the earth if we just obey the basic rules we all learned when we were 3 years old. Here are the rules as I see them:

Share. We need to share the resources and not hoard for ourselves. The resources available to us need to be allocated among many communities and species. I think, in particular, of water and food distribution where some have so much and others have so little. We don’t have a choice but to share the earth so we must learn to share the earth’s resources so all of us can survive together.

Don’t waste. Don’t waste means to make the best use of the resources we have. It obviously relates to things like recycling and turning off lights but was I was thinking about it, I realized it also means don’t use resources if you don’t have to. Take a bus, buy a smaller house, have a high gas mileage car, don’t buy things you don’t need, borrow instead of buy. I find I need to remind myself of this lesson a lot.

Pick up after yourself. To me this mean don’t pollute. When we pollute, we are leaving our mess for someone else. Our environmental laws like RCRA, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act are all basically trying to say, if you make the mess, clean it up or only make a little mess. Then I think, but if all of us make just a little mess, it turns into a really big mess which isn’t sustainable. So, we are looking into new solutions like Product Stewardship. Product Stewardship requires companies taking responsibility for the end-of-life management of the products they make and sell. The same lesson we teach our children, you are responsible for your own messes. Don’t put it on anyone else. We still have a long way to go.

I know there are a few more rules but I need to go and practice the rules at home. I’ll check back next week. While I’m gone, let’s all think about how the rules apply to us and our daily activities.

I invite you to leave a comment with your own rules and share them with others in your life to spread the environmental word.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

12 Responses leave one →
  1. Joan permalink
    April 29, 2008

    Viccy,
    We sometimes forget that the best ideas are the simplest ones.
    Thanks for the reminder.
    Joan

  2. DCer permalink
    April 30, 2008

    Any ideas for how to get adults to care about littering? I live in DC, and I cannot count the number of times during the last decade that I’ve seen adults throw trash on the ground, wherever they happen to be (even if a trash can is a few steps away). I’ve tried saying something. I’ve tried giving dirty looks. I’ve tried making a show of picking it up in front of them, hoping to shame them. And I’ve been a part of clean-up crews, setting a good example my caring for OUR neighborhood. One time, while stopped in a traffic tie-up, my passenger even got out, knocked on the window of the guy in front of us and tried to hand him back the paper cup he had just dropped out the window. He wouldn’t take it.

    Some people just don’t care, and I sooo don’t get that. How hard is it to tend to your own trash? What are the psychological, social and/or cultural issues that make so many think it’s okay to drop their garbage wherever they like?

    Seems not enough folks are teaching the 5-year-olds — who later grow up — to care for the world we live in. It hurts.

  3. Mario permalink
    April 30, 2008

    I agree, citizens should be allowed to take (cell-phone camera) photos of such actions if safe to do when and where possible to document the littering and then somehow issue a citizen’s citation to the litterer by getting a license plate number (when trash is thrown off a car). Dealing with pedestrians littering maybe a whole different issue (no license plate to take) but a photo to be published in a local newspaper may do the trick. Why don’t police officers watch for littering too and not just speeding?

  4. Marcus permalink
    May 1, 2008

    I also like the simple credo of respectful backpackers everywhere: “Leave no trace.”

  5. Viccy permalink
    May 1, 2008

    I like the credo of “Leave no trace” also. It really sums it up. Unfortunately, I think we are past the time where that is sufficeint. We need to also “Clean up our mess”. I supose that is why our work at EPA is important.

    DCer – what a frustrating set of experiences. I think that the things you are doing are right – call them on it and don’t let them just get away with it. I also think it is an opportunity to work with your city council. I remember growing up in California when there wasn’t an enforced fine for littering. It was a mess. When they started enforcing a significant fine, people stopped littering.

    People are motivated by their pocket book. It shows in how they (we) buy products, how companies respond to the threat of fines or fees and how we all slow down when there is a a cop nearby. Good Luck.

  6. chris permalink
    May 2, 2008

    To share, not waste, and pick up after yourself. I think that is a great green motto to live by….hmm, If only we could tack that into the pledge of allegiance.

  7. Linda permalink
    May 23, 2008

    DC, when I was in the army I saw the same thing. The smokers would throw their cigarette butts on the ground, and we’d have to do “police call” and pick them up. When a smoker friend of mine tossed her cigarette butt on the ground, I chewed her out. She picked it up but didn’t get what the big deal was–and she done the “police call” every time I did.

  8. Steff permalink
    November 3, 2008

    One word FUNDAMENTALS. We know what is right from wrong, I do believe the majority of the people want change. This takes a GROUP EFFORT. We all need to throw away our deamons and realize it is ultimately up to this generation as parents and/or young adults to CHANGE THIS COUNTRY and OUR WORLD. So if everyone would just remember to do your part at home and in your community would be the beginning of the rest of our childrens life

  9. Anonymous permalink
    June 11, 2009

    This is why five year olds can’t vote.

  10. ZipBox Media permalink
    April 26, 2010

    Great ideas! Thanks for the reminder!

    —-
    Johanna Lasserton

  11. andriabolton permalink
    October 25, 2010

    I like the credo of “Leave no trace” also. It really sums it up. Unfortunately, I think we are past the time where that is sufficeint. We need to also “Clean up our mess”. I supose that is why our work at EPA is important.

    DCer – what a frustrating set of experiences. I think that the things you are doing are right – call them on it and don’t let them just get away with it. I also think it is an opportunity to work with your city council. I remember growing up in California when there wasn’t an enforced fine for littering. It was a mess. When they started enforcing a significant fine, people stopped littering.

    People are motivated by their pocket book. It shows in how they (we) buy products, how companies respond to the threat of fines or fees and how we all slow down when there is a a cop nearby. Good Luck.

  12. April 28, 2012

    Respect seems to be a difficult word these days …

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