Saving ANWR, one plastic bottle at a time

Recycling day. I hauled to the curb two weeks worth of milk bottles, rinsed soup containers, aluminum cans, glass bottles and two sacks stuffed with Reno Gazette-Journals and The New York Times.

Every family in my cul de sac had green and yellow bins curbside.

We do what we can.

I was naively glad when George W. used his bully pulpit last week to argue for reduced energy consumption. Hey, I thought, the president’s waking up. Perhaps he’s learned something from the hurricane disaster—something akin to humility.

Silly me. Nothing’s changed. The administration’s using familiar tactics: Scare folks and use tragedy to force unpopular policy solutions on Americans.

Feeling a pinch when gassing up the Ford Gargantuan? Must be time to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Pro-drilling public relations efforts, already in full swing, were amped up after Hurricane Katrina. At a Web site funded by the wannabe ANWR profiteers, there’s a film with shots of contented caribou and polar bears frolicking near rigs and pipelines. The site’s intro reads, “In the wake of the hurricane disaster in New Orleans, the frailty of America’s energy supply has become all too apparent. … [That’s why it’s important to] open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration.”

If you’re not that familiar with the debate, ANWR is, as Scott Wallace writes in this month’s Smithsonian magazine, host to “a dazzling abundance of wildlife—the largest concentration of land-denning polar bears in Alaska, enormous flocks of migratory birds, wolves, wolverines, musk ox, Arctic fox and snowy owls,” not to mention the Porcupine River herd of some 123,000 caribou.

But no matter. Getting our paws on an expected 5.7 to 16 billion barrels of oil is far more important than caring for creation, right?

And don’t forget the 46 oil wells in the wetlands of Louisiana’s Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge before Katrina came along. Wait, yeah, forget them. Chewing up coastlines in an era of increasingly severe weather seems counterproductive. Unless you’re a Halliburton or Exxon exec trying to convince Americans that their energy “rights” supersede any ecological urgency.

About a week ago, an “emergency” bill was drafted to open ANWR for drilling. It passed a House committee but was, thankfully, stalled. This didn’t overly trouble oil profiteers because opening ANWR is part of the budget reconciliation bill to be voted on in the near future.

Besides calling reps in Washington and joining grassroots protests, what can be done?

Maybe we should take Bush’s advice literally, rather than let it scare us into bad choices.

It’s cold this morning, so I wrapped in a blanket rather than turn on the heat. I’m driving less, combining trips more. Yesterday, I headed to the grocery store with reusable canvas bags so I wouldn’t have to pack groceries into paper or plastic.

I’m turning off computers not in use. Doing more yard sales and less department store shopping. Preparing more food at home. Last night, I paused before tossing a holey sock in the trash. With a needle and thread, I could fix the darn thing.

I don’t sew. But I could sew.

I know I’m a hypocrite. I still consume more than I need. I’ll be filling my gas tank today, going out for lunch and shopping.

Back in 1967, Lynn White probed the “Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” writing, “What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them.”

Can tiny lifestyle alterations save ANWR? Perhaps not. But a contagion of real humility could help us see our impact on the world.

And maybe, then, we’d want to change.