Earth Saver Interview: Meg O’Neill from Treehugger

 

Meaghan O’Neill helped bring the green movement to your neighborhood. Plus she is one cool, hip mom. Since the explosion of green, Meaghan has been on the forefront of the movement by assisting the launch of Treehugger.com in 2004; co-authoring Ready, Set, Green: Eight Weeks to Modern Eco-Living (Random House); serving as a guest panelist for Glamour Magazine's April 2007 eco-issue; as well as being tapped as a speaker on eco-design for the Industrial Designers Society of America's Northeast District conference at the Rhode Island School of Design. Now, as the Editor of TreeHugger.com and PlanetGreen.com, Meaghan knows what questions people have about doing the right thing when it comes to going green.

She has contributed to publications such as Interior Design, I.D., Boston Magazine, Men's Journal, The Boston Globe Magazine, and Teen Vogue.

MR: Meg, What does Global Warming or Climate Change mean to you?

Meg: It’s interesting now that both the terms Global Warming and Climate Change are being used these days as interchangeable. It’s a misnomer – some parts of the world are getting cooler some are getting drier but really what it all boils down to is that we are living beyond the limitations of nature, and this is negatively affecting the environment. Humans have become a dynamic force in the world and we are changing the way nature responds. This is a call to get back in tune with natural systems- we need to step back and start to live more intelligently, and more healthy for ourselves and future generations.

MR: What most deeply concerns you when you look at the movement as a whole?    [more]

Meg: In all truthfulness I believe we are closing in on a tipping point and are on the verge of a revolution as to how humanity thinks. I believe we are on the heels of the next enlightenment because nature is calling on us to change almost everything. The thing that troubles me is hearing people say things like “The Government needs to do this…” and “Corporations needs to do that.” Well, we are the government, and we have to be accountable to make the changes at an individual level. Of course we need corporations and governments to make changes but we can’t afford to see ourselves as “separate” from nature and government as if our daily choices do not have any bearing.

MR: Do you think we are adopting lifestyle changes fast enough to make a difference?

Meg: Well, we are the only animal on the planet that makes waste that does not reabsorb into nature. I mean when you think that we are shipping garbage off shore and contemplating other space to figure out where to put it we have to take a look at the intelligence behind this. We drastically need to change our disposable mentality. We are in a time where there is a great awareness growing up in a great mass of people – but we have to act quickly within the next decade to change some of the industrial systems that we currently have to counteract global warming. So I guess I would say that it’s promising, but will take effort from every single individual to make changes in how they think and relate to consuming.

MR: Where do you see the most progress being made right now from an industrial standpoint to counteract global warming?

Meg: There are great geo-engineering ideas and applications happening, like feeding our oceans with Iron to decrease the CO2. Wind Power and technology looks very promising, and I think we are also seeing organic food, health remedies and clothing as much more available to us as consumers than we did in the past which gives us the alternative to buy the things we do need more consciously. I love that I can go to a music concert and find an organic t-shirt for sale. If it’s not, it may be something I don’t purchase, which in turn sends a message to the one selling the t-shirt.

MR: What things about the pace of the movement disappoint you?

Meg: I think people are increasingly aware and interested about learning but there are still a lot of skeptics out there, and they are scientific skeptics. If you were to go to another country and eavesdrop on a group of scientists you would not hear them debating about the reality of global warming. You might hear them debating on the time frame or the intensity but not the fact. This is a distinctly American phenomenon and this in itself is disappointing. One other thing that disappoints me at times is the sense of entitlement we have as a culture. I know a woman who was just really feeling the crunch of the high prices of oil, yet has a giant car that only gets 7 miles to the gallon. Now, never mind the environmental impact that the car has but suddenly the high price of oil is an affront on her lifestyle instead of thinking about using a car that’s more efficient. As a society we have to re-think what is normal. Does it make sense to commute hours away from home? Does it make sense to drive a non efficient vehicle? We can make a shift in our lifestyle and still have a good strong economy, and a good career, and a fine lifestyle, we just need to change our definition of social norm.

MR: What is your biggest fear when you think of your children?

 

Meg: My biggest fear is that the current generation is not going to take the urgency of this movement seriously. I don’t want my son to grow up and have a world that looks like a Madd Maxx Movie. The reality is that if we don’t move fast this extreme view will become a tragic reality. If we don’t act now we will see cancers, asthma, allergies, and disease progress and our world will eventually be too toxic for our children and their children, and ultimately uninhabitable. My hope and my faith are for the opposite. I would like to live in a world where green is just a way of life, and we don’t give it a second thought.

Of course we don’t eat bio dynamically engineered food, of course we don’t build our homes from toxic substances. But we still have a ways to go.

MR: What really inspired you to care about being a part of the movement?

Meg: When I was young it was summer camp. I was never a hard core activist when I was a kid but what really awakened it in my adult life was working for Interior Design Magazine. It reawakened the possibility of humanity living in a way that made sense again. I was seeing architecture and design really embracing this idea, and it made me do the same and realize that it was possible. When I helped launch www.Treehugger.com and started contributing from a design perspective I got a birds eye view of what was happening in the green scene and a critical mass was starting to build. And that’s still happening, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

MR: What books would you recommend to our readers Meg?

Meg: “Aside from Ready Set Green?” (she’s laughing because she is the co-author.)

Cradle to Cradle By William McDonough & Michael Braungart is a great book, and it’s about rethinking design. It takes a look at the lifespan of a product and its birth and death so to speak so that we create things that are made from natural materials and are biodegradable, and healthy for the planet.

I also love The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollen which takes a look at the modern food system and traces how and why our food system is the way it is today and looks at some people who are helping to change it.

The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawkins – Delves into the idea of the triple bottom line, and looks at business in the green economy.

MR: Where can you most likely be found on a Friday night?
“Hanging at my Mom’s house Scrounging dinner with my whole family around. ..uncles, cousins, aunts, grandkids, we spend a lot of time together as family …maybe too much time.

MR: What Kind of Car Do You Drive?:

Meg: I try not to put many miles on it but it's a 2000 VW Passat

MR: If you were to leave our readers with a final statement or suggestion what would you say?

Meg: The most important thing that every single person can do is a personal audit of your day. Look at the things that you do and how you can make it a little greener: is your TV on for the dogs while you are at work? Do you drive when you could walk to pick up a couple of things at the store? Just do a “little bit” at a time and as time passes you find yourself really in the habit of making better choices for yourself and the environment. I want people to remember you don’t have to do this all at once. You don’t have to be great, but you should strive to be good. You only have to do it a little bit at a time. That’s how social revolutions are born, you lead by example.

* To purchase Meg's book you can do so on amazon by following the link: Ready Set Green.  For more on Monica Rodgers, visit earthsavers.typepad.com

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