Big Small Steps
We can’t fix China, but we can do something.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
The smoggiest city in the world is a place few Americans have ever heard of. According to an informal poll—conducted over the past five minutes here in the offices of the Weekly—seven out of eight people could not even name the country in which it is located.
The worst air pollution on the planet is found in Lenfen, China. The air in Lenfen is so bad, according to New Scientist magazine, it’s difficult to see the tops of the city’s countless smokestacks.
That grimy vista is not uncommon in China. Massive industrial growth, which has transformed that nation overnight into a global economic power, has filled its skies with smoke. The 10 most polluted cities in the world are all in China, as are 16 of the worst 20. In two years, China will overtake the US to become the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gases.
The Weekly’s ‘Green Team’ has been working up strategies to reduce our environmental impact.
India is close on China’s heels. As ambitious modernization gives birth to new cities, factories and power plants, India is pumping vastly increasing amounts of poison into the planet’s air and water. And the same scenario is unfolding all around the globe—aggressive industrialization, accompanied by an immense stream of toxic fallout. By some accounts, new sources of pollution in developing nations could offset whatever reductions might be achieved elsewhere.
This knowledge could easily lead anyone to conclude that nothing we do matters. And yet we do not seem to be living in a world that has given up hope. As awareness of the global predicament spreads, the environmental movement has grown. In the past year, it seems, a shift has taken place. In the face of what can look like imminent destruction, a growing number of individuals—and even some states, nations and corporations—have come to recognize the need to take action.
There is some proof of this trend in these pages: Check out the number of Earth Day events planned for the coming week.
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I want to report that we at the Weekly are among those optimistic souls who are doing what we can. Here in our offices, a “Green Team” has been meeting since last October, working up strategies to help our company diminish its environmental impact.
The goal sounds daunting: to reduce our “eco-footprint,” including our carbon emissions. The process is simple: Every month or so, eight or nine people gather in the conference room and share ideas. Usually, some modest initiative is launched, and someone sends out an all-staff e-mail to let the rest of us know about it.
The program is still just getting started and it has already yielded results. At our quarterly staff meeting later this week, the Green Team will deliver a report on its progress. I got a preview today.
Only one of the company’s green projects required a big capital expenditure: To save energy (and warm the office), the single-pane windows that function as outer walls in much of the building were replaced with double-pane insulated glass—a project started 15 years ago and finally completed in January—at a cost of over $150,000. All of the other efforts involve minor adjustments to the way we do business.
Linda Maceira, our office manager, reworked our pick-up and delivery deal with UPS and Fed-Ex, and streamlined our supply process, cutting their fuel use. Mark C. Anderson, our deputy editor, took a tour of the dump that led to improvements in our recycling program, and also bought a little fleet of used bikes for lunch-runs and other short trips.
Classifieds Manager Carrie Kuhl began working with clients to save paper by using e-mail instead of faxes. Zoe Smallwood, a classifieds sales rep, came up with a plan that could help us switch to more eco-friendly paper. Reporter Kera Abraham set out a bucket to collect used batteries for proper disposal. A dozen other initiatives have been launched—none of them fancy or difficult. But they add up.
Last May, our CEO, Bradley Zeve, calculated the company’s carbon output. On Thursday, I believe he will announce a program to cut and/or offset those emissions, but already, they have dropped by 8 percent. When Bradley told me this earlier today, he sounded amazed, as though he couldn’t believe it. “We haven’t even gotten to the point of setting company-wide goals,” he said, laughing. “All we had to do was talk about it. In truth, our consciousness is changing.”
There might be other changes in store for us. After much research and negotiation, there’s a good chance that the Weekly will be switching to solar power in the very near future. That would be huge for us, even if it appears insignificant in a global context.
Ultimately, if we are going to stave off disaster, we need big political changes. Meanwhile, every one of us needs to do whatever little bit we can. I don’t care what happens in China—I am riding my bike to work twice a week.