When I lived in Germany I’d make the joke that the 4th Reich would start executing people who didn’t recycle. It was in bad taste, sure, but I’d roll my eyes when my German roommates would complain about my non-green tendencies.
“Why do you hate the environment?” Sarah asked one time, after seeing me use a paper napkin.
“Because I have food on my face.”
But clearly there was something wrong with me. A month later, Katja got upset after I took a fifteen minute shower. To her credit, that is a pretty long shower, but we hadn’t had hot water in three days, and it was November, my first shower since we lost the water heater.
“You were too long in the shower,” she said.
“Yes, but we’ve had no hot water. Just imagine I took one five-minute shower over the last three days.” She wouldn’t.
“You’re not allowed to do that,” she said. I felt anger rising in me. I can do what I want, I thought. No one can tell me what to do. It was a distinctly American thought—admittedly entitled—but then again, Katja could have asked nicely.
Still, German environmental conscientiousness rubbed off on me. I get anxious if I hear water running unnecessarily; I keep the AC at 78; I feel guilty if I have to put a glass bottle in the trash. When I left less-than-clean Budapest for Berlin one weekend, I couldn’t believe how easy it was to breath the air, how fresh it smelled.
“Really? You’re in a big city,” Mario, a Berlin resident told me. Really, man. The air felt great. I’m thankful for this German attitude toward the environment now.
And I’m not the best at staying green. I drive my car forty miles every day. My greatest passion, traveling, increases my carbon footprint to a degree I don’t want to know. I still refuse to buy BP gas because of the oil spill. But what’s the point? A few years ago, looking out of a plane’s rain-streaked window in Germany, I noticed the BP logo filling up the plane. I inadvertently support the people I despise.
Still, with Trump’s appointment of Scott Pruitt to the EPA, I feel angry and upset. The president-elect seems about as thoughtful and selfless as [insert any narcissistic non-developed nation leader here]. A colleague at work, an open lesbian who has more to be anxious about than me, said that Germany’s a really nice place now, that the 40’s there were way worse than what’s to come here. It helped. A little. I felt better for the afternoon, but then the nerves came back.
Because I was worried about global warming before Trump. It’s the only issue that really matters. ISIS won’t last that long. A blink in civilization. But mass extinction, the potential end of humanity, seems like something that we should be on top of. How big does your yacht need to be? How about bronze-plating your shit bucket if you’re the king of saving money.
Still, I need to remind myself about perspective. After all, this phase will end as well. Over a year ago, I was at Þórsmörk, Iceland, looking down at a volcanic valley, surrounded on all sides by mountains and a glacier. The view was magnificent, the landscape powerful. Surprisingly, it was also calming. I felt a weight lift from me, looking at this lifeless terrain. I realized everything was going to be ok. Because this planet was far more powerful than seven billion people. Feeling insignificant is a blessing. But, like every revelation, it eventually became a memory, and then the worry came creeping back.
I haven’t forgotten the next day at Þórsmörk though, walking through the volcanic rocks in the valley, seeing that single seagull. How did it get there? It didn’t belong. But it was alive, looking healthy.