I love the little things–towels warm from the dryer, new socks, sitting down to drink a cup of coffee…uninterrupted, a no frizz hair day, and when my husband says, “Wow, you look so skinny in those pants!” It’s the little things that not only put a spring in our step and a smile on our faces, but they are inherently necessary. Just ask me on any given Monday night when I haven’t thawed anything for dinner, and my husband calls and says he’s coming home early with a pizza and a bottle of wine! Without the little things, I’m certain we’d all lead a joyless existence.
How does that theory hold up with being environmentally conscious? How do the little things we do each day contribute to saving our planet? Are we even making a dent in leaving smaller, perhaps non existent carbon foot prints on the planet?
We recycle our cardboard, glass, and aluminum. We shut the water off when we brush our teeth. We don’t water our grass. We don’t buy bottled water, instead we opt to reuse a more durable water bottle everyday. We don’t make pointless trips to the mall. But, really, in the big scheme of things, are my actions and the actions of my family making any difference? I’m starting to wonder.
I’m starting to wonder, too, if our nation needs to collectively consider a “new normal.” I’m not really wondering, actually. I know we do. Being wasteful with a conscience is no longer acceptable to me. Empty plastic grocery bags litter my garage floor, and my guilt over it will, sadly, not save the planet.
Although I don’t regret all the little things we do as a family to reuse, recycle, and reduce, I do feel it will take a drastic overhaul of our entire infrastructure to ensure our planet’s longevity for our posterity. I fear, however, that what many want is for scientists to devise a cheaper, less oil dependent way for us to live in the wasteful, extravagant, gluttonous manner to which we are accustomed. What are we teaching our children, if anything, by utilizing only feel good measures that require little effort or sacrifice. Recycling cardboard and shutting off lights are easy ways to teach your kids to be environmentally responsible, but anything above and beyond that may prove unsustainable as soon as somebody wants a new pair of shoes or the latest iJunk technology. And what happens when either are purchased? The old one gets thrown out, of course! According to Anne Leonard, the author of The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession With Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and our Health–and a Vision for Change, 99% of the stuff we buy will get thrown away within six months of our purchasing it! This tells me that not only do we need an entirely new infrastructure, but also a different mindset in regards to how we view our “things.” Cul de sacs, subdivisions, and arbitrary zoning laws would of course need to be re-evaluated for their necessity and contribution to the demise of the concept of a village type community. Until then, I’m not suggesting anyone merely give up use of their cars; we still have to live, function, and travel within our cities and communities.
How many of us would be willing to relocate our jobs closer to home in order to save fuel and prolong inevitable wear and tear on our cars resulting in the purchase of a new one? What if that job meant a pay cut?
Would any of us downsize our homes to lower utility costs and energy consumption? Would you forgo air conditioning altogether and search for alternatives to beat the sweltering summer heat? Would any anyone consider not upgrading his or her phone when a newer one appears on the market?
I haven’t even mentioned supporting our local economies and farmer’s markets. What would it take for us to stop buying from the large grocery chains that enable us to rely on fish from Chile or produce from China? Consider the fuel that could be saved if none of this stuff was ever transported via airplane and tractor trailers. Would any of us be willing to eat only local, in season produce?
I propose a challenge to all of you: For the next year, purchase nothing you DON’T need. Food, of course, is an exception. Wear shoes and clothes you wore last year–I think I just heard a collective gasp! Use the same cookware, phones, glassware, bath towels, and bed sheets and pillows. Replace possessions only when the old ones basically disintegrate and require replacement. Imagine the fuel saved both in our mindless trips to the mall and in transporting those cheaply made goods to stock our stores. Talk about reducing oil dependency! Imagine the empty highways that used to be congested with impatient shoppers, commuters, and truck drivers! Imagine what you could do with the time you’d not be spending wandering the malls and warehouse grocery stores! Imagine what we could really teach our children about conservation!
Sadly, however, the feel good measures will win out. The only way such a mind shift could occur is if a national catastrophe necessitated it. I fear we will be content with being wasteful with a conscience for some time to come.
But the seed is planted, and it’s our responsibility to cultivate it. Perhaps, as Lewis Hyde, a writer and social critic said of writers Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson, “…their writing is an effort of the periphery to be heard by the center.” Berry makes note of Hyde’s astute observation in his book, The Way of Ignorance, and notes that we cannot learn or come to any meaningful realization without first being ignorant. My views my be of the periphery, too, and I can only hope they find their way to our wasteful and consumer driven center. What can we all do collectively, consistently, and dramatically to make an impact? How do we realize our resources, regardless of what the advertising industry tell us, are not infinite. It is absurd to believe otherwise. What can we do to become a deeper shade of green?