Cranberry Sauce and Jellyfish

June 27, 2011

by Andrea Putman, Director of Corporate Partnerships

(This post is part of a weekly series by the Second Nature team about why we do what we do.)

In the 4th grade, I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up. A garbage woman and an author! Although I lived in a small, pristine town on the north shore of Long Island with very little mess, I abhorred the thought of litter. I envisioned a fruitful and happy vocation writing stories about my adventures while picking up stray cans and pieces of newspaper in the ‘hood.

One Thanksgiving, there was no cranberry sauce. The bogs were polluted in far-away Massachusetts. Although I wasn’t crazy about cranberry sauce, I was deeply bothered. It didn’t seem like how the world should operate and I learned that the distress in other places impacted what was on my plate. As the baby of the family with 3 hungry big brothers, 2 stepbrothers, and a sister, I was definitely concerned with the quantity of food on my plate.

We spent our joyous summers at Lattingtown Beach with our friends and neighbors swimming, laughing, playing backgammon and bocce ball, and throwing jellyfish at eachother. My innocence was shattered when the ominous and destructive red tide* hit the Long Island beaches in the 1970s. Beaches were shut down! No swimming! At this point, I knew in the depths of my soul that pollution was serious and impacted whether I could cool off and splash around or alternatively roast in the sun.

I work to honor my ancestors and protect my children. My ancestors toiled to feed their families and make a good life in America. Some worked to advance freedom in the new world. Many were deeply involved in politics and strengthening their communities. My children and their friends and schoolmates are inheriting a hugely troubled ecosystem and economic system. I work to try to improve their futures. Since our boys are not yet of college age, I am particularly grateful to have the opportunity to work on behalf of Second Nature and the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.

My dream of being a garbage woman / author has become a reality. I’ve dedicated the last two decades to improving the energy efficiency of buildings, increasing the use of renewable energy, trying to slow down climate change, and writing about it. I work to inspire others to action. We’ve made tremendous progress but the challenges are vast, growing, and daunting. Along with my colleagues and friends, I have more stories to write and trash to recycle. Now it is time for me to eat some cranberry sauce.

Andrea is Second Nature’s Director of Corporate Partnerships. She is co-author ofBoldly Sustainable: Hope and Opportunity for Higher Education in the Age of Climate Change and The Business Case for Renewable Energy: A Guide for Colleges and Universities and editor of Financing Sustainability on Campus.

*red tide
n (Life Sciences & Allied Applications / Environmental Science) a discoloration of sea water caused by an explosive growth in phytoplankton density: sometimes toxic to fish life and, through accumulation in shellfish, to humans.
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003