Why bother going green, reducing toxic chemicals or your carbon footprint?

Quite often when I talk to parents about reducing toxic chemical exposures around the home, they get overwhelmed.  When you really start to talk about all of the potential hazards – bisphenol A, phthalates, dioxins, PCBs, 1,4-dioxane, PBDEs – you do start to feel like you can’t really do anything about it.  Lead is present everywhere, PBDEs are present everywhere, etc.  So, you begin to feel as if everything has a potential hazard associated with it.  At some point, most people just become overloaded with information, and then start to ask “why bother?”  Why do anything since any individual change won’t really matter?

Well, why bother?  Because our personal choices do make a difference.  I think that Michael Pollan’s (author of the excellent The Omnivore’s Dilemma:  A Natural History of Four Meals) essay in the New York Times’ Green Issue entitled Why Bother? answers the question perfectly, at least in terms of reducing your carbon footprint.  But the reasons he discusses apply equally well to reducing toxic chemical exposures.

As he writes,

Going personally green is a bet, nothing more or less, though it’s one we probably all should make, even if the odds of it paying off aren’t great. Sometimes you have to act as if acting will make a difference, even when you can’t prove that it will. That, after all, was precisely what happened in Communist Czechoslovakia and Poland, when a handful of individuals like Vaclav Havel and Adam Michnik resolved that they would simply conduct their lives “as if” they lived in a free society. That improbable bet created a tiny space of liberty that, in time, expanded to take in, and then help take down, the whole of the Eastern bloc. . . .

Doing what you can to reduce toxic chemical exposures can force change.  I don’t think we can wait until Congress acts . . . although I do support the Kid Safe Chemicals Act.  But if we buy products without the potentially harmful chemicals, we compel change.  Just look at the recent success with respect to polycarbonate plastic, albeit long in coming.

Further, trying to reduce toxic chemical exposures can force you to examine your buying habits and even result in re-purposing products, ultimately a great green strategy.  It could even reduce your carbon footprint.  For example, I didn’t buy and don’t use vinyl bath toys because I was worried about lead and phthlates – we instead use some plastic food storage containers that had that lost their lids.

Ultimately, I think we must bother.  Every single one of us.  So I urge you to try to do one “green” think each day for the next 30 days.  Let’s see what we can accomplish.  For example, tomorrow, if you don’t already, shut all the electronic equipment down in your office for the weekend.  Post a tip if you have one.  Perhaps I’ll even try the DivaCup.  Hmmm. . . . I’m not sure I’m ready.  Yet. 

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