Nalini Joseph: Responsibility for Salisbury’s ‘green’ future

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 9, 2021

By Nalini Joseph

“Generally, people have things that are more within their personal purview that are difficult to deal with and that they are avoiding — and the way they avoid them is by adopting pseudo-moralistic stances on large-scale social issues so that they look good to their friends and neighbors.”

That’s a quote from psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson on the misplaced importance that is given to collective responsibility as opposed to taking personal responsibility on matters like climate change.

Meet 21-year-old Madison Kluge.  Two weeks after she graduates from Catawba College, Madison will become Salisbury’s first sustainability coordinator. What is a sustainability coordinator, and why is this position supremely important in our city?  Madison is responsible for creating a greener place to live in. “Green” sounds soothing, pretty and nice, but Madison is actually working on what I call “survival tactics for the 21st century.”  Her position as a city employee in the public works department will affect our immediate environment: the air, water and earth — all the elements we need to survive as human beings.

Madison will help our community take advantage of the natural cycles that exist in nature. Think back to middle school science: natural cycles are the nitrogen cycles and carbon cycles that impact our environment — the air we breathe, the soil in which we grow our crops, the water we drink.  Madison will help us learn to take advantage of our natural cycles so that we can address issues like our carbon footprint.

We are generally out of touch with natural cycles. We tend to think of ourselves as creatures who live apart from nature. We comfort ourselves: surely the next generation will invent ways to solve the problem of air pollution and clean soil and water. We shy away from thoughts about what our world will look like fifty years from now.  Will we have to somehow pay for all the things we throw away that don’t decompose?

Madison examines the problem of littering.  She will put her efforts into solving this huge problem by evaluating people’s morals and values. The problem of litter is not going to be solved by knocking on people’s doors to lecture them on littering.  Those who litter don’t necessarily care that they litter and deface their own community and city.

Madison reports that littering is a symptom of past generations not acknowledging the consequences of living a consumptive-based life. Most Americans live in a consumptive, throw-away society. How do we force people to care about their environment?  We begin by talking with school children about their own values and morals regarding litter. Madison is under pressure to influence and change people’s perspective on litter, thereby keeping our city green. It’s a tall order for a 21-year-old college graduate.       

Why is it that we heat our homes up in winter to 75 degrees but in summer the thermostat is set to turn the air conditioning on at 70? Do we need three TVs in one house?  Where does all that plastic that is on the back of each TV come from?  Why do kids today need five pairs of Nikes when a generation ago, kids led perfectly healthy, happy, and productive lives on just one pair of sneakers? Where does the “rubber” in the soles of each of those pairs of Nikes comes from? Yes, petroleum distillates.

While President Biden’s goals of creating a “green economy” to lower CO2 emissions by replacing electricity generated by coal-fired power plants with windmills and solar power (which themselves have a carbon footprint) sounds great on paper, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that it’s not even a band-aid on a wound that needs sutures.

As individuals with voracious, ever-increasing appetites for consumption, we will continue (to varying degrees) to negate the minuscule positive effects of Biden’s changes.

The simple alternative to government over-legislation and underachievement on climate change is for us to place limits on ourselves. Personal responsibility gives us hope for the future of our planet.

Maybe it’s time for us, as citizens of Salisbury, to stop, listen and act on simple doable solutions that young people like Madison are researching and willing to teach us.   

Nalini Joseph is a Salisbury resident. Email her at