How National Geographic Nurtured My Inner Environmentalist
When I was a young girl, we got the National Geographic Magazine. Like George Bailey, I thought our membership in the society meant something. It meant we were interested in the bigger world around us. It meant we cared about stuff that happened outside of our own back yards. It meant we were smart. There was an air of authority about the magazine, and a lot of magic and a tiny bit of nudity in the photographs and stories. How else could a girl from Milford Connecticut learn about what was going on in places like New Guinea, Australia or Mongolia? I’m not sure when I started reading the magazine instead of just leafing through the pages looking at the incredible photos–women with gold rings around their stretched necks, elephants walking single file through the savanna, monarch butterfly colonies so thick they resembled wall paper. It might have been in the sixth grade.
In the sixth grade I had to write a science report for Mrs. Bloxom’s class. She was a formidable teacher–tough, but good. She took no BS, and expected her students to perform, especially if she knew you could but were a little too lazy for your own good. So, when she gave us our final assignment, I wanted to do a really good job on it, because I knew I could and so did she. I wanted to impress her.
I decided to do the report on Ecology, a relatively new branch of science (yes, I am that old) that dealt with environmental issues, although I don’t believe that term had been coined yet. Up until that point in my short life, I was used to being entertained by the docile critters on the Walt Disney Hour and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, where a guy named Jim used to wrestle with alligators in swamps and chase bears through the forest to the amusement of his colleagues. But after studying the National Geographic article about this new branch of science, I suddenly became familiar with terms such as extinction, smog and conservation. I also became frightened by what I learned.
I learned that we were killing off leopards and seals and birds at alarming rates to provide furs and feathers for fashion’s sake, that indeed, we had already hunted and trapped some birds and mammals to the point of extinction. I had never really considered what the Raybestos factory in the neighboring town was ejecting out their smoke stacks that made us hold our noses when we went by and earned it the nickname “Stinky Poo Factory”, but now I wondered what WERE we breathing in as we drove by on our way to Grandma’s house? I read about smog, and about soil erosion, and about elephants being slaughtered for the Ivory trade. It was all almost too much for my little mind to bear. It was an eye opener and I think I grew up a little at that time, and began to develop a more sensitive observance of the world we live in and how we affect it.
I was becoming a little environmentalist. I wrote an impassioned and informative report. I included a hand drawn illustration of a leopard and an original poem that was a scathing judgement (for a sixth grader) on people who wore furs and feathers without regard to the creatures whose lives were sacrificed for their wardrobe choices. I reported hopefully on the advances made in soil conservation, and dismally on the effects of pollution in our air and water. Mrs. Bloxsom gave me an A, and praised my work. I was proud of that report. I was also changed by what I had learned.
I consider myself an environmentalist. I garden organically, support local organic farmers and producers, and I don’t pour solvents into storm drains. I write to my representatives and urge them to support renewable energy production and legislation that protects our environment. I have successfully convinced my husband that glyphosphates do much more harm than good, and most of my Facebook friends know exactly where I stand on fracking, GMO’s and the fossil fuel industry. I promise when I win the lottery I will give money to The Sierra Club, Greenpeace and The Audobon Society. I am not a kayakactivist, and I have never chained myself to a tree that was about to be felled or a railroad track that supports oil trains, but, then again, I’m not dead yet so anything is possible. Stay tuned.