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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bluegrass PRIDE: Politics, religion considered taboo dinner topics, but what about recycling?

By Amy Sohner
KyForward contributor

I have been told throughout my life not to discuss religion or politics in mixed company, and have generally been able to avoid any knock down, drag out fights over presidential elections or who is really going to heaven. For the first time, however, recycling was brought up as a taboo dinner table subject at a meeting I recently attended. According to the story teller, he is such an avid recycler that his wife has forbid him from discussing it in public. I am not sure exactly how I feel about this. On the one hand, I am happy that someone is so passionate about recycling that he is willing to be socially blackballed by his friends and family. Conversely, why is it still a subject for discussion?

(Photo from andyarthur via Flickr)

In my high school and college days, I was not short on activist opinions. I started Amnesty International and Environmental clubs in my high school, and was the president of the UK green group, SAVE (Students Against the Violation of the Environment). In each of those groups, and during heated discussions with friends, I was not shy about sharing my strong beliefs for and against many of the hot topics of the day. In fact I loved debating so much I would often choose a side other than the one I believed in just to keep the conversation going. As I have grown older (matured?), my convictions are still as strong but the way I discuss them is much different.

When I started working with PRIDE, I learned that not only did I need to be a bit more cognizant of the way I said things, but that calmer discussions about non threatening subjects can often have an even bigger impact on our environment. Strangely, I usually use recycling as an example when describing how PRIDE approaches environmental education and outreach since it is usually not a controversial topic. Until my meeting last night, I would have never considered that a discussion about recycling could get you thrown out from the Thanksgiving table.

Working for PRIDE, I had to learn that I can still save the world (a goal from an early age), even if the reason homeowners work toward energy efficiency is because of economics and not because it is the right thing to do or that businesses want to be green, but are probably happier with the promotion they get for being green.

One of the most exciting things in my early years at PRIDE was the standing invitation we had to appear live on a local conservative talk show. The DJ repeatedly would say that PRIDE was not filled with “typical tree huggers”, and indicated that because of that, it was ok to listen to what we had to say. How many environmental nonprofits get that kind of endorsement?

When we first started approaching schools to come into their classrooms and teach environmental education, we were met with a lot of skepticism. This was shortly after the 2001 “expose” by John Stossel (then of ABC’s 20/20) asking if environmental education was “education or environmental boot camp,” suggesting that all those who teach about our environment do so in an authoritative, factless way, and use our influence to grow future tree huggers. This could not be further from the truth. One of the greatest things that has happened to environmental education in the past few years was the development of an informal environmental education certification to help “legitimize” educators and to make sure that we are all held to the same high standards.

To be honest, part of me will occasionally feel like I have sold out. As I get older, I become a bit nostalgic for the days when I could say anything I wanted, and picket anything I wanted and not worry about the consequences (although that was before Facebook where EVERYONE can know every thought that crosses your mind). But then I remind myself how comforted I am by the work that PRIDE does, and know that we would not have nearly the reach we do if we were marching on the capitol steps each weekend.

Amy Sohner is executive director of Bluegrass PRIDE and a graduate of the University of Kentucky in Natural Resource Conservation and Management. Sohner has worked with PRIDE since its inception in 2002 and is a Certified Environmental Educator. She is involved with the Kentucky Environmental Literacy Alliance, the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance, the Licking and Kentucky River Basin Teams, and serves as vice-chair of the Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission. Sohner lives near the Kentucky River palisades with her husband, 5-year-old daughter and a multitude of pets.



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