Feeling Green Guilt at 30,000 Feet

By Tracey Bianchi 3-04-2011

I just returned from a fabulous little weekend getaway. Skipped town with the hubby. Just us, sans three kids for the first time in four years, and it was glorious. We headed to Lake Tahoe, and you would think that three feet of powder followed by blue skies, soft snow, and delicious cuisine at the end of the day would be the high point.

Nope. It was the pure selfish joy that came with waking up in the morning, no one to care for but myself. No bottoms to wipe, cereal to pour, teeth to brush but my own. Just me, yawning, taking my time. Sipping coffee. Ahhhhh. Honestly, if all I did was sleep and wake up to repeat the same morning it would have been time well spent, and cheaper.

But four days later I was eastbound again and at 30,000 feet had a little green epiphany. The flight attendant announced that Southwest Airlines was green and that they would be coming through the cabin to collect beverage cans to place in a recycling bag. A simple little detail, but one I confess to immediately scoffing at inside my sometimes mean little head. Really, green? A "green" airline? Yeah, because air travel is so earth friendly, I quipped to myself. Because you, oh green airline, are part of an industry that is responsible for like 2 to 3 percent of the CO2 on this planet.

Never mind the fact that judgmental, hypocritical me had purchased a seat on that plane; that people like me help propel the industry (no pun intended, seriously); or that I was on a nonessential weekend jaunt, just blowing jet fuel into the air so that I could have some slope-side fun.

Shame on me.

Okay, so recycling a few cans does not necessarily make an airline green. It just means Southwest recycles. Big whip. But at least they did this much, which is more than I can say for another air carrier that I recently traveled with. Sitting in the back of the plane I watched as a flight attendant threw everything from the flight into one messy bag. Cans, water bottles, gum, and half eaten sandwiches. I asked her if they recycled any of it. She shrugged, "I don't know, probably not."

So, okay, I eased up on Southwest and, instead, applauded their efforts. I can only stand my own hypocrisy so long. A few less cans in the landfill is not likely to change the trajectory of this planet, but we must all do our part. And, I believe that corporations have to do a bigger part. And yes, I believe that we need all sorts of change to make a difference -- personal change, systemic change, government change, and corporate change. We need it all.

But, along the way, we need all the small changes too. Could Southwest do more? Yes. Did they at least do something? Yep. And this has been my little eco-mantra all along: Just do something! Sitting idle is not an option, and there is no guilt if you cannot do it all. Who can? But pick one item and tweak it, recycle it, refuse to purchase it, or repurpose it -- guilt-free. Even if you recycle only a little can, it helps. Do something. The point is that then, once the cans become commonplace, we do a little more. Bit by bit, conversation by conversation we can make change.

Whether at 30,000 feet above sea level, let us always applaud the changes we do see. And yes, let's not ease up on what adjustments still need to come. But applaud every effort for "every bit counts."

What are a few little eco-ideas you've put into place lately? (And remember, no guilt if your answer is, "Well, none.")

portrait-tracey-bianchiTracey Bianchi blogs about finding a saner, greener life from the heart of the Chicago suburbs. She wrote Green Mama: The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet (Zondervan 2009) and blogs at traceybianchi.com.

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