Photo: J. Spellman/WireImage
It hit her when she gave birth to her son: You can guarantee your child a clean, healthy environment for only nine months. After that, what kind of world would he live in? A green one, if she had any say.
I was born and raised in Manhattan. City living never really put me in contact with the earth, and I didn't think I had to count on the land; I expected it to provide for me. I assumed that I'd turn on the tap and water that was clean enough to drink would come out and that I'd always have air that was safe to breathe. I did take public transportation, but that was for convenience, not because it was good for the environment. My carbon footprint and how I disposed of my garbage weren't issues on my mind.
In 1988, when I was 23, I got pregnant with my son, Travis. It was right at a moment of awareness in our culture about global warming and the limit on how long we could exist as a gas-guzzling, throwaway society. It was the cause célèbre of the time.
When you start understanding that garbage doesn't disappear but lies on top of the earth, seeping into the groundwater, you realize that everything you use has an afterlife of hundreds (or even thousands, when it comes to plastic) of years. I became environmentally depressed. As I nested and prepared the house for my son, I had dreams about garbage dumps filling up with disposable diapers and plastic bottles, so I was obsessed with using environmentally sound cleaning products and cloth diapers.
I carried Travis for nine months, providing him with a safe and healthy place to grow inside me, and then I gave birth and fed him my breast milk. Then, when I had to give him over to the world—to food that comes from unknown places and toys that come from irresponsible manufacturers—it really hit me: I felt responsible not only for my child but for the planet.
I became proactive. I got involved in the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Resources Defense Council. I tried to be green and educate others about making environmentally conscious purchases. Unfortunately, the movement petered out in the 1990s, and suddenly I felt like I was the only one shouting, "We have to think about what we use! It's not enough to recycle plastic—you shouldn't be buying it in the first place. What about those nice cardboard takeout containers?" I wasn't alone, of course, which is why the issue has come back to the forefront, but in hindsight, if we had really committed to it back then, our world wouldn't be in the predicament it's in now.
The Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy states, "In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations." Thinking that way changes everything: I now have two kids, and they will have kids, and the lineage will go on. I understand that how I walk through my life on this planet will affect the world my children live in. When I go to yoga class with my stainless steel water bottle and see other people bringing plastic ones, I want to scream about it from the mountaintops!
Mothers believe we are responsible for our children from the womb to the grave. We are connected by the longing to protect them after they leave our bodies, so the impetus for making this planet safe for them lies with us. Mark my words: It's the soccer moms who will change the world.
—As told to Rachel Bertsche
From the July 2008 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine