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The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

How I Got Environmentally Educated

Posted by | October 6, 2013

Money tree?The following was published in the Biddeford-Saco Journal Tribune Sunday edition, 10/6/13:

School has started again, which means it’s group visit season at the Wells Reserve at Laudholm. Those schools fortunate enough to have bus rental money are sending classes our way, and our team of educators are taking the kids out on the trails, down to the beach, and through the science and history of this 360-year-old place.

For a long time, I didn’t understand what “environmental education” was. I’m a perennial skeptic, particularly when it comes to claims from my own liberal brethren, so, over the past ten years of my environmental career, I’ve always taken my colleagues’ proscriptions with more than a grain of salt. What finally convinced me to start applying their lessons was, of course, that grand old motivator of cynic and sucker alike: money.

Highway diesel fuel costs about 8% more per gallon than unleaded, but my Volkswagen diesel goes 20% further on a gallon than the unleaded model. Then, after some careful data collection on my daily turnpike commutes, I discovered that if I set the cruise control to 74 miles per hour (down from 80), I could get nearly 50 miles per gallon. Another 20% increase in MPG, for just a 7.5% decrease in speed? I wonder what I could get at the speed limit, and if I would still pass every Prius I see.

Even though Maine is awash in fresh water, I still feel the urge to conserve. So I live by the old camp maxim: “if it’s brown, flush it down; if it’s yellow, let it mellow.” My wife is not nearly as keen about our House Toilet Rule as I am. I need to show her the water bill. (Or not. It likely costs 2 cents a flush… I’m being ridiculous.)

My six-year-old wants to be a veterinarian when he grows up (what six-year-old doesn’t?), and over dinner recently he put two and two together – “eating meat means animals die, Dad.” So now he’s converting the entire family to vegetarianism. I love steak, and pork, and chicken, and seafood; this has been very difficult. But so far, his accusatory looks have cut our carnivorous episodes by more than half, and our food budget similarly. (Lobsters, despite PETA’s best efforts, are still a part of our summer dinners, though.)

Recycling. Oh, recycling. I’ve had such doubts about recycling. Where does all that stuff really go? Can milk cartons (with the last drops of milk in them) really commingle with beer bottles, cardboard pasta boxes with plastic windows, and paper credit card statements? We continue to throw everything we can into our blue bin and trust that somewhere, someone is getting paid to sort it all out. I have made one change in the past year: all the refundables now go into a CLYNK bag tagged for our elementary school’s PTA. Drinking during Pats games now contributes to my boys’ educations. Pass the kale chips.

I readily admit that I’m no green guru. I’ve clung to a certain consumerist way of life, despite arguments and evidence and guilt. But I have changed, gradually. Money’s been the best incentive; in difficult economic times, we’ve all scaled back where we can. It’s been comforting, and also thrifty, to realize that the lessons of environmental education do work. Ten years’ of colleagues have been right: going green, every way you can, makes dollars and sense.


Nik Charov is president of Laudholm Trust, the nonprofit partner of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wells, Maine. His Sunday Journal Tribune column, “Between Two Worlds,” ventures forth from the intersection of art and science, past and future, faith and skepticism. More at


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