What New Yorkers can learn from California: Bags and baths

Christina Greer, Ph.D. | 6/4/2015, 11:29 a.m.
I recently visited Los Angeles, and each time I touch down and see the Pacific Ocean, I always feel like ...
Dr. Christina Greer

I recently visited Los Angeles, and each time I touch down and see the Pacific Ocean, I always feel like I am cheating on New York City just a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I am an East Coaster through and through. Cali is indeed a great place to visit, and I enjoy Fat Burger, Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar and the permanent warm weather for sure. However, I never thought New Yorkers could learn much from Californians until this last visit.

There are two lessons I learned in L.A., which have changed my relationship with Mother Nature. They can be summarized as bags and baths.

First, the bags. California has implemented a 10 cent surcharge on any plastic bags at grocery stores. For some time now, I have struggled with whether I agree with this tax. When D.C. implemented the tax, I applauded it until I heard that the additional 10 cents per bag really did adversely affect poor people without canvas bags at their disposal. However, certain stores in California have places where people can donate canvas bags. I have also seen quite a few creative methods people have devised to avoid using a plastic bag and paying the tax. Ultimately, the decrease in production and usage of plastic bags will help our environment. (I don’t say “the environment” because that implies that it is something that is not ours. We have the power and capacity to protect or destroy it, therefore, it is “our environment” we must think about.)

The second teachable moment I discovered in L.A. pertained to decreased water usage. California is experiencing yet another summer of drought, and although it seems as if California is always in a state of drought, scientists have confirmed that no one is crying wolf when it comes to the water shortage crisis this time around. They are asking residents to limit their water usage and to actually think about a culture shift in their relationship to water. While I was there, I limited my shower usage to under five minutes, I made sure the water was not running when I brushed my teeth and I did not fill the sink completely when washing dishes. All of these were easy to do. They just took a minor shift in how I saw my relationship to water. I was even able to wash my afro in under 10 minutes—something I had never done before. It’s amazing what we are able to accomplish when linking our personal needs to a greater good.

I know New Yorkers are some of the most thoughtful and creative individuals ever. It is my hope that we can take some of the lessons from L.A. and apply them to our own lives. Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins always reminded us that the Earth is merely placed in our trust for our grandchildren and their children. As we work to protect our environment, there are so many small things we can do to leave the planet in better (not worse) shape for future generations.

Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.” Follow her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.