Diane MacEachern is not just any green family blogger. The mom, author and public speaker from Maryland has years of eco-cred to back up her role as a conservationist.
Diane played an integral role in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Climate Change Action Plan, a nationwide program to educate the public about global warming. She worked with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance to establish the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. Diane was the vice chairman of the board of directors for the Alaska Wilderness League and has been cited for her distinguished service as a board member of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Her latest book, "Big Green Purse," — and also the name of her website — encourages women to use the power of their purses to shift money they are already spending toward greener products.
During my recent trip to the Detroit Auto Show, I had the opportunity to soak up some inspiration from Diane, who could always be seen with her hand in the air asking the really tough questions and motivating the rest of us to think critically about each presentation. Here's what this green mom mentor had to say about picket lines, politics and simplifying your life.
MNN: You have been speaking out on behalf of eco-issues since before green went mainstream. What first got you involved in environmental issues?
Diane MacEachern: It started with my upbringing in Michigan. On the one hand you're surrounded by this incredible natural beauty and I had parents who made sure that we spent a lot of time outside. My mom in particular was really tuned in to nature and animal welfare. So growing up here was really wonderful and yet it was also very threatening in many ways because there was so much pollution.
I was here when the auto industry was really taking off and there was terrible air pollution. There was a time when all of the dairy cattle were accidently fed a fire retardant and we found out after months of drinking this really horribly contaminated milk. I remember watching TV and watching the milk get poured out. One day we went to one of the lakes to have a summer picnic and go swimming and the lake was closed because it was so polluted. There were dead fish on the beach. So there was beauty, but there were also these big environmental problems here in Michigan.
It's really a function of being here and thinking that we live in this really beautiful place and yet it's under siege. And I was raised by people who taught us to act on injustice. We were very active in our community and in our church group. I think I was 7 years old when I stood in my first picket line with my dad for the labor union. It was a combination of understanding that we need to act to right a wrong and that we live in this beautiful place and that we need to protect it.
Are you pessimistic about the state of the environment and the green movement today?
I'm optimistic about where the green movement is, but I'm pessimistic about where the world is because it's almost like now it's two steps forward and one step back. We're making so much progress on so many fronts and yet you look at the stupid things that we continue to do. We should not be having these debates about climate change. We should not be doing these calculations that pit human health against economic growth, and the fact that we continue to do that really bothers me.
We're also more politically entrenched then we have ever been. We made so much progress in the '70s in terms of tacit legislation. I don't know if we'll ever see those days again. On the other hand, I think that the green movement has permeated so many levels of society that used to be antagonistic toward the environment. Twenty or 25 years ago, we would not be sitting at Ford HQ talking about how the company is really doing everything it possibly can to keep moving toward sustainability. Population is growing by leaps and bounds, and that's going to keep pressure on the planet and that's going to require tough choices that I don't think we really have successfully addressed yet.
I know you speak a lot about climate change. Is that the environmental issue that concerns you most?
I think the way we use energy is the big issue because it affects climate change, it pollutes the air, pollutes the water, it endangers wildlife, it destroys precious habitat, and it undermines national security. Climate change may be the worst of those impacts or the most irreversible of those impacts, but I think really the issue is energy and what we need to about using less energy and using different sources of energy and using energy more efficiently.
What one piece of advice would you offer to families who are trying to move toward a greener lifestyle?
Simplify. Everybody is constantly in a panic. We're catching up. We're rushing. We've got to do it all. We've got to do more. And I think we need to learn to step back into our own world and think about what makes for quality of life in our own world. That almost always means a simpler lifestyle and a less pressured lifestyle. Even though we're moms who are juggling tons of things, I think that we can do that.
In my own household, we have a "No Electronics Day" on Sunday. We just take an electronic break. It's a very simple thing to do. And it has simplified our lives tremendously because suddenly you're not worried about who's calling or who you're not calling, or who you're not online with or answering all of that email. So really it's a bigger picture than just being green or saving energy or not using toxic chemicals. At the end of the day, it's about what changes will give you a simpler life and a higher quality of life.