How Composting and Jim Inhofe Led Me to Climate Change

When I was twelve, a police officer showed up at my door.

Earlier that year I learned about composting. It sounded great! It avoids methane production associated with anaerobic decomposition in landfills, and somehow magically turns food waste and yard waste into nutrient-rich fertilizer. I decided to start composting. My sister and I raked up all the brown leaves in the yard, threw them into an extra garbage can and smashed the leaves to bits (I thought increasing the surface area of the leaves would speed the rate of decomposition). Three months later, the leaves were still brown and in tiny pieces — they hadn’t changed at all. I decided they needed more sunlight so I dumped the leaves on the grass behind the house. Hmmm…several months later the leaves still hadn’t changed and the grass was dead. “No more composting at home,” my parents declared. Only then did I realize you needed the proper ratio of carbon and nitrogen in your compost.

Already invested in trying to help the environment, I discovered a little patch of woods in my neighborhood and decided it was the perfect spot for composting. Every few I sauntered over with my red bucket full of yard waste and fruit and vegetable scraps and a rake to smash everything up and turn the pile.

“That’s illegal dumping”, the police officer told me. “That’s private land — -you can’t dump your waste there.”

“No more composting ever,” my parents said.

People knew that I cared about the environment. And they expected me to do everything that was “environmentally friendly.” Why was it up to the environmentalists to do everything “right” and “environmentally friendly” just because they cared about the environment?

In eleventh grade my physics teacher and Earth Club sponsor called me up to his desk. “Did I see you throw away that piece of paper earlier today?” he asked.

Wait, what? I thought back to that morning when I walked out of the counseling office and threw away an envelope with a plastic window. I thought because it had a plastic window it wasn’t recyclable and it was only one envelope.

Just because I was in the Earth Club he would care? What about the millions or billions of envelopes that haven’t been recycled ever? Why did all the other people who did all the “bad environmental things” get off the hook and not have any responsibility? How was that fair?

I mean of course I cared, and of course I did what I could, but all the lightbulbs I changed, all the water I saved, all the miles I walked instead of drove was not going to stop climate change. I wasn’t the only person who had an environmental impact on this planet.

I began to believe that everything we did in our lives as humans was bad for the environment. Every time I ate an apple, every time I rode the bus to school, every time I took a shower, everything I did used resources or created greenhouse gas emissions — it was all bad for the environment. I felt like my life, every life was just a burden to the environment.

A lot of things in college changed that feeling. Last year, my freshman year in college, I learned about Jim Inhofe. He singled out “Hollywood liberals and extreme environmentalists” as the perpetuators of the “global warming hoax” and when further pressed cited “Barbara Streisand” as basically the sole cause of global warming. He, a senator, the chair of the Senate Environment Committee, who previously vowed to do all he can to block regulations aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, just said that Barbara Streisand, the Duck Sauce singer, was basically the sole cause of global warming?? WHAT!???

I couldn’t believe people like him existed, people who decided to ignore science, to ignore that climate change is a fact. It was ridiculously unfair that the United States of America and the western world had created the problem of global warming and left the rest of the world to deal with it. While we had the technology, the money to adapt to the symptoms of global warming, we wouldn’t stop the root cause. We had to continue emitting and polluting all in the name of capitalism and endless growth — our profits and wealth were much too important.

As I learned more, so many things were not right to me surrounding climate change and environmentalism, including the slow pace of progress, the lack of diversity in the environmental movement, the corporate ties and greenwashing, the overlooking of social and environmental justice. I always felt like I wasn’t doing enough, but I struggled with getting involved in activism because it seemed like there was so much time and effort put in with results not always guaranteed. At school, I worked on some of the many sustainability issues on campus (back to composting), knowing that sustainability wasn’t enough. There was system change sorely needed. Then I joined the fossil fuel divestment campaign on campus, Divest and Invest, and the world of climate justice and climate activism opened up to me.

I have only recently been introduced to the climate justice and climate activism movement but I am excited to make it my future. My existence is a not an environmental burden measured in greenhouse gas emissions, but an opportunity to create change in the world. I have never identified as an activist, and only barely as an environmentalist. I never felt empowered, that me, one person could change the world. And I’ve come to believe that you alone can’t change the world, but each individual is an important part of collective action. It took me long enough to join the movement for a clean and just renewable energy future. I hope you can join me.