A mailing from the Sierra Club arrived in Auntie Ruth’s mailbox just last week. It did not arrive in a recycled envelope. It came in a big ol’ bag, actually—a big ol’ bag that felt plasticky and not all that recyclable.
And inside the big ol’ bag, Aunt Ruth found a plasticky backpack, as much a purse as something to day-hike with. It is an earthy brown, with dark-brown accents. It’s sitting here on the floor and, for the life of her, Auntie Ruth doesn’t know what to do with it.
It’s cheap. It has an odd assortment of straps and buckles, the kind you see on purses over the shoulders of young women who tragically overaccessorize until that fateful moment when they look in the mirror and say, “Geezass”—that time in young womanhood when one puts aside childish things and reduces accessories by two-thirds.
Anyway, it is the kind of useless thing that shows up in landfills by the garbage truckload.
Now, Aunt Ruth specifically asked not to get this plasticky backpack. She mailed in her donation to the Sierra Club like the Good Green she aspires to be. When asked if she wanted the special gift, she checked the little box—as she does every year—no, thank you.
That is to say: no, thanks. Not this year, and not last.
But no, here it is. A cheap, plastic, brown bauble. It’s made in China.
Let us not dwell on the obvious morals to this story. Auntie Ruth will give the Sierra Club money because they represent a force against consumer waste. Municipal solid waste rose from 88 million tons in 1960 to 250 million tons in 2008, with per-capita waste rising from 2.68 pounds per person, per day, to 4.5 pounds over the same period, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Meanwhile, philanthropy in America declined by 8 percent in 2009 and was predicted to stay flat this year, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Auntie Ruth can do math, but two plus two ain’t making four.
In the same way Barack Obama is Auntie Ruth’s president, the most powerful person in a messy, confusing world, Sierra Club is an important cause for Auntie Ruth. But, like Obama, her environmental movement must be consistent, have common sense and articulate a clear path. Come what may.
Keep the damn backpack.