Monday May 20, 2013 | 08:15 AM
Posted by Harold Johnson

Last week I was called an “environmentalist” in scare-quotes on Twitter. As in, someone who claims to care about the environment but doesn’t really. Or not enough.

It was a good reminder of an old maxim: However far you will or can push yourself in a direction, someone will push themselves farther. There’s always someone smarter, stronger, more devoted to a cause.

It was also a good reminder that change isn’t about meeting someone else’s expectations. It’s about expanding -- then meeting, then re-expanding -- your own expectations.

Breaking with environmental purity, I still:

  • Sometimes drink bottled water if it's offered.
  • Like fast food & have some once a week or so.
  • Own glass straws, but often forget to bring them with me.
  • Use 6 plastic 1/2 & 1/2 packs for my diner coffee in a sitting.
  • Buy chips or plastic-wrapped candies. They're yummy.
  • Occasionally toss something I could've recycled.
  • Have been known to lose litter & not retrieve it.
  • Sometimes buy "cheaper" instead of "more eco."
  • Drive when I could walk.
  • Sometimes judge people who pollute more than I do.
  • Sometimes judge people who pollute less than I do.

Since picking up my first bag of garbage from a beach, more than 3 years ago, life has been something of a slow wake-up. I’ve come to realize that there is such a thing as sustainable, sensitive living. That it matters -- that it's imperative. I realize now the level of damage that comes with some of the choices & options of modern life.

Still, I also recognize that grand gestures and cold-turkey quits aren’t a reality for most. Myself included. The great thing is: small steps are still steps. Consume less here. Waste less there. Reuse here, recycle there. Pick up a piece of litter. See it, notice it, don’t ignore it.

Your choices are noticed by those around you. They matter.

I write & think about the ills of waste & thoughtlessness. But I do so always with a sense of my own limits. With the humility that, for all my talk and efforts, I too have been -- and continue to be -- part of a mainstream culture that most highly values the impulse of the moment over all else.

But, hopefully, a little less today than yesterday.

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About the Author

Visiting a Maine beach in March 2010, Harold Johnson was shocked by the ocean-borne debris left by recent storms. He grabbed a garbage bag and a camera, and hasn’t looked back.

Since then he has spent most of his free time studying marine pollution, coastal ecosystems, and the mysteries and science of ocean and shore.

Copyeditor and writer by trade, historian and archaeologist at heart, Johnson’s philosophy is simple: Dig below the surface, travel the currents, make the connections, learn. Then share what you learn. He lives in Saco with his wife and young daughter. Follow on Twitter @FlotsamDiaries.

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