What a (in)difference a Day Makes


A version of the following blog post appeared as a column in the September 27th edition of the Newburyport Daily News



It would seem many of us have used the expression, “What a difference a day makes.”  It generally follows some weather event; recovering from feeling poorly; or perhaps some solution to a problem that has been an ongoing issue over a period of time.  For me though, it’s been the indifference…the non-act that leads to a larger difference for a local, regional or national community not being the best version of itself.

Recently, there were two intersecting occurrences that has me thinking more about our indifference to the choices we make personally and collectively that impact all of our lives. Those impacts include the human and economic costs we just don’t think about from day to day even though we acknowledge, sometimes loudly, that they are problematic and require action. It just seems too many of us don’t want to take the necessary action to make our community healthier overall.

The first occurrence  was an NPR interview regarding the state of our environment and lack of progress toward getting to a place that perhaps could be seen as a tipping point for mitigating climate change. The interviewee pointed out that while younger generations prioritized more the need for action than older generations, every generation paled in taking action themselves.  It was pointed out that the percentage of people believing in but not taking action to address climate change is as large as the group of climate change deniers.  Taken together climate change indifference and denial is a powerful force for inaction on the necessary changes needed to help protect our planet.

The second occurrence was a recent Flash Vote sent out by the City of Newburyport.  It was a short questionnaire which both explained the increasing costs of our waste and recycling disposal needs along with an opportunity to weigh in on some of the options for reducing costs. People could consider preferences ranging from an every other week waste collection to align with recycling to an expanded composting options.  A  good number of people have signed up for the Flash Vote opportunity, which is open to all residents.  It was an example and  chance for our community to move beyond a level of indifference for taking action to think globally and act locally.  The results were informative, but had me  circling back to the NPR interview and our indifference to taking action.

Pew research has captured the inability to act personally on issues which people identified as critical on a global scale in a recent survey that supported the NPR interview regarding different generations and  climate change: https://pewrsr.ch/48v6xtX

It’s interesting to note from the survey that no matter the level of priority for planet sustainability, every group’s level of action is reduced by more than 50% from their stated urgency.  Newburyport’s local Flash Vote results didn’t break down the results by generation, but as a whole they mirrored the Pew survey noted above.  Our community’s goal of net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050 will be a challenge to meet if we don’t move beyond a critical mass of indifference.

Beyond the local and broad surveys, we can all make a difference each day to make our community more environmentally and economically sustainable.  Just walking or driving through my community will conclude the following anecdotally through the eye test:

~ I live in a neighborhood with a cul-de-sac and 25 homes. Two of those homes currently compost, which is picked up weekly by Black Earth. Composting reduces our trash to a half filled paper bag each week, while those not composting sometimes have overflowing barrels with plastic trash bags. A drive through city neighborhoods seems to have the same ratios of residents not composting, which increases the amount of trash generated citywide and also adds to the tax burden for all of us.

~ Too many vehicles are traveling at excessive speeds on city streets, and it appears there’s a dual level of indifference in this regard on both the driver and enforcement sides. Not only is this an increasing danger for pedestrians and cyclists, it’s also an environmental factor. There are ubiquitous studies that show driving at posted speed limits reduces carbon emissions, increases fuel efficiency, and reduces costly maintenance need related to over acceleration and braking.

Each day we have a chance to make a difference. Communities who aspire to be environmentally green or net-zero emissions locales can reach those goals by individuals making some simple and consistent choices regarding how we deal with our waste along with how we choose to drive our vehicles. A collective indifference though to the needed simple decisions will ultimately be an expensive choice, both in our wallets and long term quality of a community.