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Paper or plastic: daily green dilemmas

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Sometimes, the more choices you have, the more stress you feel. That's the case with some people when it comes to taking care of the environment. As Karen Kelly reports, being environmentally aware can be a burden.

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Transcript: Karen Kelly, February 23, 2010

Sometimes, the more choices you have, the more stress you feel. That's the case with some people when it comes to taking care of the environment. As Karen Kelly reports, being environmentally aware can be a burden.

(sound of buses)

So I'm standing at a bus stop. I've been shopping all day and my arms are weighed down by bags. It's freezing cold and I face a moral dilemma. Do I wait for the bus, where I will stand in the aisle balancing my bags? Or do I slide into the comfy back seat of a nearby taxi? Taking the bus is a better choice for the environment because it uses less fuel. But taking a cab is the better choice for a lot of other reasons. And that is the type of choice that we face all day long. It seems that a lot of people here in Ottawa, Canada debate these choices - and often feel kind of guilty:

"Do you ever find that you're agonizing over decisions in terms of how they might affect the environment? Yes, often... for example, I like to consume a lot of water, I take a lot of baths. So I find myself making compromises: if I take two baths this week, then I will hang my clothes on the clothesline as often as possible."

Anything I wish I did better? I wish I would stop indiscriminately throwing stuff on the ground.

A litterless lunch. Is that hard to do? Yeah, because if you want to take a chewie or something, you can't take it out of the wrapper, you just throw it away anyways...it's hard.

Seriously, these issues are everywhere, and it can get a bit overwhelming.

June Tangney is a psychology professor at George Mason University in Virginia. She says no one person can do it all:

"I think it's a good thing, actually, that we're that aware of so many different ways that we have an impact on the environment. But I think it's better to consider it as a menu of options and then make informed judgements about which ways will have the biggest impact on protecting the environment."

Tangney says we also have to decide what works in our life. Do I have enough money for a hybrid car? It costs more. But maybe I have time to walk instead of drive. Now, some people argue that we should be feeling anxious about the environment, but Tangney says that won't help us solve the problem:

"If we have a serious emergency on our hands, what we don't want is a population that's depressed, anxious, ashamed, and overwhelmed. We want people who are aware of the facts and psychologically able to make important decisions on how to best meet the challenges."

Tangney suggests making trade-offs. For instance, she used disposable diapers on her three kids. Then her family volunteered for a clean water advocacy group. She says there's always another environmental choice to be made. You won't have wait long.

For the Environment report, I'm Karen Kelly

Copyright 2010. The Regents of the University Of Michigan. Used with permission.

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