During the last weeks, we have learned a lot about the reality of trying to live sustainably in America. Towards the end of our series, I now want to know whether the Morgans consider their own lifestyle sustainable and what that exactly means to them.
Apart from the Morgans, I also reached out to Bane’s older sister Sheryl (46) for an opinion. They stressed that in a country as big as the U.S. how much money you make and where you live heavily influences your options to truly live a green lifestyle. We also talked about how the younger and the older generation can contribute to stop global warming, and what message they want to send out to young people like you.
Lea: Would you consider your own lifestyle sustainable?
Julia (12): I really try to be.
Clara (14): I think so, yeah. I feel like we try.
Sophie (41): I would say we’re good at some things and bad at others. I don’t know.
Sheryl (46): No! Look at the cars you drive.
Sophie: Mathematically, the footprint of our cars is erased by our solar panels.
Bane (42): Yeah, we’re neutralizing it.
Bane: Our kids, they don’t like plastic, single-use plastics. As a family, we use metal straws, or we don’t use straws. I think those kinds of choices are the first step in having their generation realize that: “Wait a minute. This is not acceptable. This is no good.” Now… it’s not cheap to be sustainable. Especially, not in this country.
Sophie: Yeah, it’s not the easy path.
»We are well-educated people that have the ability to be somewhat sustainable. If you're scraping to get by, it is the last thing you're thinking of.«
Bane: We are well-educated people that have the ability to be somewhat sustainable. If you’re scraping to get by*, it is the last thing you’re thinking of. When you’re worried about feeding the kids you’re gonna find the cheapest, easiest way to make that happen. Once you know that they’re gonna eat and they’re gonna be able to go to college, now, you’re like: “Okay, what else can we do to help?” We have the ability to have that discussion. And 90 % of the country or world don’t have that ability to have that discussion.
Sophie: Also, the kids recycle, all the time. It’s absurd if we don’t recycle. It’s absolutely a way of life for us.
Bane: With the changes in the Chinese economy… we would sell most of our recyclables to China. They don’t want it anymore.
Sheryl: They don’t recycle it, anymore.
Bane: They don’t want to take it. And now we have people that are recycling – or think they are – and everyone’s putting in the same thing and putting it in a landfill*. We’re thinking we are being sustainable but the global economy shifts it in such a way that it doesn’t matter.
Sheryl: And also, there’s an excess* of what China had recycled, and what you can produce from it. So, China is like: “Well, we’re not going to recycle, anymore, until you use the by-products* of what we recycled. That’s another reason why they stopped. And it’s all sick… When we were growing up, we went to the store, and we used the paper bags. Then, they were saying, we were killing all the trees, so, we stopped using paper bags and switched to plastic. And now, we’re killing the oceans. So, we’re not using plastic bags, anymore. There’s always something, right? And the bags that they are using to make the reusable bags have oil in them. I think, it’s like Bane’s put it: You can try, and you have to do your best, but I don’t know that we are solving it here in America.
Out of sight, out of mind?
For three decades, rich counties like the U.S. and Germany shipped their plastic trash to poorer Asian countries, many of them developing nations lacking the capacity to manage such waste. China took the lion’s share—45 percent of the world’s plastic waste imports. Then at the start of last year, it refused to take more because of local environmental concerns. China’s move threw the recycling industry in western countries into turmoil as they scrambled to find new buyers and expand their own recycling programs. (adapted from National Geographic)
Take a listen to how the city of Nogales, Arizona, is struggling with recycling its trash:
Bane: Grandpa has no problem burning leaves. There’s nobody on earth… I shouldn’t say nobody… most people our generation would never burn leaves. And no one in their generation will. That’s good.
Sophie: It’s coming!
Bane: So, people try, but economics still have to work with it, or they won’t do it.
»Will it come? I think to some extent, but again it's gonna be finances.«
Lea: What does it mean to live a sustainable life for you? What are some examples?
Julia: Plastic straws are a big thing that I’m trying to cut out*. And especially energy, too. I leave my light on a lot. So, I’m really trying to work on that.
Clara: Eating healthy, saving energy, and things like that. Things like shutting off your lights when you leave home. I feel like I don’t use that much energy personally. I definitely encourage* my dad to get solar panels.
Sheryl: I think it’s more so the people that live in areas that are sunny and use the solar panels or can use the hydro-electric. I think, people that live off the grid* can tap into* those things. They’re on that path, but the general population doesn’t have that accessible to them. Like, if you’re gonna live in a cul-de-sac* and work in the city and commute*, that’s not gonna happen for you. But those how many percent that have figured it out, they do it like soup to nuts*. So, I think there is the extreme… do you know what I’m talking about?
Bane: I do. But the only thing I have problems with about the so-called off-the-gridders is that their sewage* system is terrible. They’re burning everything. If they can burn it, they’re gonna burn it. It’s off the grid, but I don’t think they do it as a sustainability thing. They do it because of the isolational thing. I don’t think they’re doing it because there is this grandiose idea that I’m gonna save the world.
Sheryl: Yeah, they’re not the people in Arizona that use all solar… that’s different.
Bane: What I think what’s been impressive is that the coasts… well, I should say the West Coast especially has been very much forward. We went to California last year, and every Uber we got in was an electric car.
Sheryl: And there’s already no straws there.
Bane: Yeah, they are way ahead of that stuff. And now, the East Coast. Well, face it: Americans in general are selfish. They are the country of excess. Now, the East Coast is ten times worse than here with self-centered selfishness. They don’t care. My friends in New Jersey, if it doesn’t help them today, they don’t care. So, you get to these different parts of the country where people care more. And my friend said when I told him, “Hey, we’re putting solar panels on.” He lives in L.A. He goes, “Dude, that is so West Coast!” But it’s real. They care more. They are the ones that have the e-bikes. You know, everything they are doing is trying to be that. So, it’s good. Will it come? I think to some extent*,but again it’s gonna be finances.
»And they knew so much more than I thought they did. But they can't do anything about it, yet.«
Lea: What is your generation in general doing?
Clara: Our grandparents won’t even understand it or want to think about it. Our parents know, but then our generation is doing things and demonstrating. There is a lot of change happening.
Bane: I think the habits*, just like with everything, change slowly. Growing up, when we were going on a trip, there would never be a recycling garbage can.
Sheryl: I don’t even remember recycling at home.
Bane: No, we didn’t. It changes over time, but it does change. And I think that’s really important. And the kids see it, and it’s not uncool to do those things. Right now, sustainability-wise it’s cool to have a reusable water bottle. It’s not cool to use single-uses. And supporting and doing those kinds of things, I think, is big. And when I said to the kids, “Hey, guys what do you think about us getting solar panels?” They’re like, “That is awesome!” They were super excited to do it. And I said, “Well, why are you so excited?” And they knew so much more than I thought they did. But they can’t do anything about it, yet.
Lea: What message do you want to give to the young generation?
»Don't listen to everyone else. You know what's right. Do it.«
Bane: Don’t listen to everyone else. You know what’s right. Do it. All what the grown-ups are going to do is mess it up. So, don’t listen to them. You know what’s right. Don’t listen to us. And don’t accept it unless it’s what you think is right. Because, again, economics drives it all. If these guys say, “I’m never gonna buy gasoline!”… Guess what? It won’t happen, and oil will go away.
Julia: And our parents’ generation would say, “Oh, it’s just one person; who could do that much?” But the kids are saying:, “It’s one person that is willing to do this much.”
Clara: I want to push my parent’s generation to do more, and I want my kids to do more than my generation, because I feel like we have to get started. So, when big things happen, it takes people to get started, so I feel like that’s what our generation is doing, and they are starting this and they are talking about it. And I feel like our parents are supporting it, and they are behind it.
to scrape by: to live with barely enough money
landfill: an area of land where large amounts of waste material are buried under the earth
excess: more than is necessary, reasonable or acceptable
by-product: a substance that is produced during the process of making or destroying something else
decomposition: the process of being destroyed gradually by natural chemical processes
debris: rubbish/garbage or pieces of material that are left somewhere and are not wanted
to cut out: to put an end to; to eliminate
to encourage: to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope
off the grid: not using the public supplies of electricity, gas, water, etc.
to tap into: to make a strong or advantageous connection with
cul-de-sac: a street or passage closed at one end
to commute: to travel back and forth regularly
soup to nuts: covering every detail or part of something
sewage: used water and waste substances that are produced by human bodies, that are carried away from houses and factories through special pipes
to ... extent: used to show how far something is true or how great an effect it has
habit: a thing that you do often and almost without thinking, especially something that is hard to stop doing
Why We Should Not Burn Dry Leaves https://brownleaf.org/why-we-should-not-burn-dry-leaves/
Is This The End of Recycling? https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/03/china-has-stopped-accepting-our-trash/584131/
Think Outside the Bag: Paper or Plastic? https://www.teachaboutus.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=531
What Are The Most Eco-Friendly States in America (According To Google)? https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/california/articles/what-are-the-most-eco-friendly-states-in-america-according-to-google/
Video on Homesteading Family Living Off-Grid in a Spectacular Earthship https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9jRYHpeAk0
Video on Life in an Off-Grid Cabin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TE8WMINfSNQ
The blog series #WasteNot https://www.teachaboutus.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=132#p135
- Can you set off (neutralize) your ecological footprint by installing solar panels?
- Go online and make up your own mind about off-the-grid living. Would you say it is more sustainable?
- What views does Bane express about people living in the east vs. west of the U.S.? Do you think these are truths or stereotypes?
Meet the Morgans How one American family is going green
In Going Green, you come across different cases of sustainable lifestyles on both sides of the Atlantic. And in times of globalization—easy mobility between nations, expanding trade relations, communication through social media in real-time—we're led to believe that we already know exactly what life in another country looks like. But is that really so? Luckily, Lea Meimerstorf was able to visit and interview a family of six from western Pennsylvania during the past few weeks and she got an interesting glimpse into their daily life. The Morgans welcome us into their home and along their daily routines. Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to explore what steps this American family takes—or doesn't take—to go green, including the areas of housing, transportation, food, shopping, and more. What do you do to go green? And how do your family's efforts compare to those of the Morgans? Stay tuned and find out in this mini-series.The views and opinions expressed in these interviews are not necessarily reflective of Teach About U.S.'s mission.
Lea Meimerstorf is a primary school teacher student in the 2nd Master's semester at Leuphana University Lüneburg. Her subjects are English and German. She has been supporting Teach About U.S. as a project assistant since 2019.