In 1989 an Exxon oil tanker spewed over 11 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean off the coast of Alaska, and a little girl in Western Pennsylvania was heartbroken.
I was seven when the familiar voices of NPR delivered the news through the speakers over breakfast one morning. In the days that followed, I became obsessed with learning everything I could about the Exxon Valdez oil spill. I asked my parents about the birds and the fish and the whales and the seals and the otters and the coral and the kelp.
“Would they live?” I don’t think so.
“Did anyone care?” I don’t know, there are other—
“—But you guys do, right?” Yes, we do.
“What can we do?” There are people are taking care of it.
“How did this happen?” I don’t know.
I followed the coverage of the cleanups and the fuck-ups of one of the biggest man-made disasters into the next year. (You can read more here.)
That oil spill set me on a trajectory of caring about the planet. My heart was broken, open. My next mission became to protect the rainforests. I’d send the tiniest little pieces of money (by comparison) to organizations (like Rainforest Alliance) who would protect their living creatures. Was it my pop-up books of wild animals or the photos in books of faraway places that showed me what was out there to care about? Like all those big cats that were becoming endangered. “Why don’t humans care?”I was particularly concerned with endangered snow leopards (Hey, maybe we did something to save them.).
A few years later, when I grew old enough to be assigned school reports, I chose to research and write about the environment I cared about so fiercely. Tree Frogs. Coral Reefs. Clouds. Rock Layers of the Earth. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. When I was thirteen, I even tried going vegetarian “to save the animals,” but my dad so endearingly explained “what kind of teeth I had” and “what they were for.” So, I ate my lunchmeat, but not without becoming a PETA lunatic. (Sorry about the major make up toss, Mom.)
In 1996 my family’s life unhinged. What I cared about shifted focus. Still, when high school ended and it was time to choose a career path, I realized that I’d gone from wanting to be a National Geographic photographer to wanting to be a psychologist to wanting to be an environmental scientist. I wanted to do more than see the world. I wanted to save it, save us.
Today, my family and friends know me as someone who “really cares about the planet.” Sometimes they make fun of me. Sometimes they ask me how they too can change. Sometimes they proudly show me what they’ve changed—their recycling bin, their cloth napkins, their water filter.
My husband and I share a love for nature that runs deep, and a better world has become my north star. Even so, our life is not perfectly green. My showers are way too long. I really like clothes, and I really like shopping. Chad occasionally uses plastic bags and drinks from single use bottles. We indulge in our bouts of take-out and cases of sparkling beverages. And not only are the two of us not at all perfect, but our sustainability priorities don’t always align.
But it is our stewardship for the Earth that keeps us whole and keeps us learning. If I needed an eco-partner in crime, then my husband is surely it. My efforts are all about conservation. No water bottles, no plastic bags. We’ve past the point of recycling, so re-use. Towels, not paper towels. Cloth diapers. Package free. Let’s buy shampoo bars! Vote green. Ditch single-use. Buy second-hand. Humans, stop using so much shit! Chad’s efforts are such a pure expression of harmony with the natural world. Because of him, we drink water from a natural spring that’s filtered in our kitchen. We eat from our vegetable garden and have a big bin of happy earthworms that munch on our compost. We walk in our bare feet. We keep the chemicals out of our life. We get out in nature. We don’t even eat animals anymore.
Re-reading that last paragraph, and it seems like our life is rigid and crunchy. Oh, but it’s not. The greener we go, the more free and more enriched our lives become. Maybe it was the political climate on climate change or the personal space that I cleared out to make room to feverishly share how I care about the environment again. Most likely, it is our 18-month-old, Cameron. It’s his world now, and I want to leave it better than I found out it.
I want us all to care that much for the people that will live beyond our years. I want us to care that much for the animals and sea creatures in their natural habitats that have been destroyed. I want us to care that much for the communities that live with consequential changes in their health and quality of life due to the ways humans have used and abused land, soil, and water. I want us to (as we say in my family) to TIA, to turn it around.
We still have the opportunity to take care of the home we have—Earth. And that is why I want to show you 365 opportunities you have to make changes in 2021. This is our home, and while we are here, I want us all to experience the richness and the freedom.
In 1991, my Exxon Valdez report was read by an audience of five. My parents, my teachers, and my two proof-reading friends in science group. But now it is (my crazy AF) wish that one million people will see these 365 things that they can do to change how we live.
Will you help me? You can. You can help all of us. I’ll be sharing 365 things right here on this blog—and also on my instagram (@jannacabana #TheImperfectGreenGuide).