Earth Day: Everything I Know About Environmentalism I Learned from Salute Your Shorts

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Z.Z. Ziff and her signature Earth earrings. Photo: Nickelodeon

On a recent trip back East to visit my family, I made them buy a huge recycling bin and educated them on the importance of not throwing styrofoam containers out of the car window on the highway (no, really) and instead treating our planet with respect. Sure, living in San Francisco for almost seven years has definitely turned me into more of a hippie than I was upon arrival (I chant in yoga and have been known to keep browning banana skins and other organic detritus in my bag until I can deposit them in my compost bin at home), but the foundation of my Mother Earth-loving self was not born here, but in front of Nickelodeon in the early ’90s.

That’s where I met Z.Z. Ziff of Salute Your Shorts, a short-lived show about various trouble-making teens and their obnoxious counselor “Ug” at a summer camp called Camp Anawanna. There was the ginger bully and his dim sidekick, the All-American boy, the geek, the prima donna, the sporty girl, a Rilo Kiley member, and, last but certainly not least, the animal-loving, tree-hugging environmentalist. While the other kids were giving into greed or jealousy or whatever other silly thing middle schoolers are into, Z.Z., with her Earth earrings and naive idealism was always the voice of reason.

And never moreso than in the season one finale, “Environmental Party,” in which she attempts to educate her peers about the irreparable damage humans are doing to our fragile planet. At first, she goes the enraged activist route, shutting off the power and water to send a message to her blow-drying, long-shower-taking room mates. She also turns their room into a recycling center. This does not go over well and she is asked: “Are you out of your granola-munching, whole-wheat, tie-dyed save-the-planet mind?!” Um, rude!

Z.Z.’s second approach is better: a catchy song about environmentalism! Sample lyric: “If we don’t change the way we live, we’ll be covered in PUKE AND ROTTING GARBAGE! IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!!!” Despite being the best thing ever written (sorry, Marcel Proust), the kids think she’s insane and end up food-fighting and moshing ’cause why the hell not?

Eventually, with the help of a Greek trash collector so stereotypical that his last name is Spanakopita and he randomly exclaims Opa! for no reason (Tourette’s?), Z.Z. gets through to her friends by informing them that they can actually make money from recycling! Being Americans, they respond well to this and, after some soul-searching, come to realize that Z.Z. is not crazy just because she cares about something.

So, in honor of Earth Day, consider shedding your litter bug ways and being more like Z.Z. Ziff. If you happen to write an enraged compost-related song, please send it to me so it can keep “Puke and Rotting Garbage” company on my Love Me Some Gaia playlist. Oh, and you can watch this entire life-defining episode here! You’re welcome.

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Emmanuel Hapsis

Emmanuel Hapsis studied creative writing at University of Maryland, College Park and went on to receive his MFA in the field from California College of the Arts. After a few years of odd jobs, he landed at KQED, where he worked his way up from an intern to being the lead producer of a literature podcast and then the creator and editor of KQED Pop. In his free time, he teaches yoga and sings his heart out at karaoke.

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