Monday, August 11, 2008

The Rugged Environmentalist


The black canner I lent a friend two days ago rested on my porch bench. I hefted it up, resting it on my hip while I turned the key in the lock. Carrying it to the kitchen, I set the canner on the counter and turned on the computer. While it booted up, I pulled out zucchini another friend gave me from her CSA box. Sifting through my cabinets, I located the rest of my ingredients - local honey from Marie, the beekeeper at my farmers' market, and locally milled flours discovered on a tip from a fellow blogger.

I turned back to the computer to check email. Melissa suggested last week that I try to arrange a screening of The Garden movie. I took her up on her suggestion and my green task force is knee deep in preparations. I had three emails waiting - all from task force members proposing venues or offering to spread the word. I responded and then followed the directions in an email from Arduous on how to fix a Blogger glitch for a task force blog. Solving the glitch, I shut off the computer. Back to making zucchini bread. I'll make one loaf for my neighbor, I mused, to thank her for taking care of my cat last week.

A year ago, I embarked on a lighter lifestyle. If you had asked me then, the question I set out to answer today - what sustainability means to me - I would have given a far different answer. I initially thought living green meant living lonely. That sustainability was synonymous with self-sufficiency.

As today's afternoon made clear, living sustainably has nothing to do with living self-sufficiently. A year of push mowing my lawn, eating locally and biking about town has shown me one thing - the rugged environmentalist is over-rated. I share the lawn edger with a neighbor. I buy my locally grown produce from friends at the farmers market or swap homegrown veggies with neighbors for more variety. I bought my bike used from a local mother and joined a bike buddies group started by some friends.

Sustainability is not about the individual. In fact, individualism is what has gotten us in to this position to begin with. We, as a society, traded local businesses, that invest in our schools and whose owners live down the street - for cheap clothes from the big box store that pays its workers less then minimum wage and is headed up by a corporation thousands of miles away. We, as a society, have migrated to individual interests - spending our evenings with the Jack Bauer instead of the neighborhood bunco game. Political activism has gone the way of Dodo. It has been replaced by the occasional vote . . . mostly for an American Idol.

Sustainability is not about the individual. It is about community. Creating connections for support in the difficult times ahead. Buying produce from the people who grew it. Paying a few cents more for our necessities because those cents stay in our communities, are reinvested in our schools and our senior centers. Carpooling. Sharing goods so we don't need to suck up resources to produce new ones. Reaching out to extend and receive help.

From where I stand now, with zucchini bread cooling on the kitchen table and emails buzzing about a community movie night, I know what my answer is to the APLS Carnival question: What does living sustainably mean to me?

It means letting go of the rugged environmentalist. It means embracing community.

Don't forget to send your post on What Sustainability Means to You to aplscarnival(at)gmail(dot)com by tomorrow, August 12th, to participate in the first APLS Carnival.

24 comments:

eco 'burban mom said...

Oh! Excellent post as always! It makes so much sense, sharing things like lawn edgers. You use it once a week, so why does everyone need their own? However, not everyone is blessed with friendly neighbors, people just don't take the time to be neighborly anymore. We are blessed to live next door to the nicest, most generous people and we share everything from eggs to kayaks and help each other fix things, move heavy furniture and run errands for each other when needed. I pray they never, ever move, neighbors like that only come along once in a great while!

Bobbi said...

Great post!

fearlesschef said...

Nice! We share so much with others, we often joke about forming a commune! Seriously, though, the sharing of skills, tools and food has really helped us to build relationships with other people in our mindset. And when we really need someone for a chat, a shoulder, a hug, the foundation has been built for that and so then, the sharing of hearts is simple.

Gina said...

Oh...I LOVE this post. I couldn't post about sustainability now If I tried!! You said it all so perfectly. You know what? A couple years ago when Hurricane Rita hit....we had the power off in our town for almost 2 weeks. School was cancelled and everyone literally came out of their hot houses and lived on the porches. We all got together to patch roofs and cut up fallen trees. It was truly the BEST time, despite the inconveniences. It really is amazing to realize that we live such "canned" lives.

greeen sheeep said...

Wow! I feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Thanks for the great post!

I think I'll go bake my neighbor some cookies.

Beany said...

This is another good way of looking at sustainability. I too thought it meant being lonely and it was just a bit too isolating, despite my introverted nature. Reading Melinda's, your's, Crunchy's and other women's blogs has actually encouraged me and given me ideas on how I can introduce environmental actions to my friends. And make it not seem isolating or weird, but make it fun and interesting. I'm not close to being comfortable enough to talk about Camp Teotwawki yet, but I feel like that point it much closer than it used to be.

Green Resolutions said...

Mmm. Funny how the American Dream changes :) Sad that so many areas have lost the sense of community. We're still new to our neighborhood and haven't met many people, even when we tried to take our son trick-or-treating. But your post creates such a sense of optimism. Thank you.

Bugs and Brooms said...

I love this post - as usual! I am not sure what happened to being neighborly but you are right! My DH asked a neighbor for some old wood that they tore out of their house in a remodeling project - the neighbor told him no - he didn't want him to step on a nail! My poor DH was so broken - being from the south meant open doors and helping hands but we aren't finding the same attitude in our new location. Our dog got out one day and I was driving around trying to find him - I stopped at another neighbors house and asked if they had seen him. They didn't say a word, just shook their heads no - I had a sleeping toddler with me and was totally distressed. Maybe it is just our neighbors - at least that is what we hope! We have met some other really nice people in the community so these are probably just unusual situations. But it has made us gun shy about reaching out - we really need to get over it and keep trying! Thanks for the reminder!

Hope to get my own sustainability post up by tomorrow!!!

ruchi aka arduous said...

Great post as usual, GB. I think you are absolutely right. And the added benefit is, when you start thinking in terms of community, it's not only easier for you to live sustainably, it's easier for your neighbors to live more sustainably as well!!

Green Bean said...

EcoBurbs: I agree that not everyone is blessed with friendly neighbors but we can slowly work in that direction. The neighbor who watched my cat has always been super nice but just planting an edible garden out front has gotten me to know several other neighbors. Being out front, doing something interesting, people just can't resist their curiosity. We've lived in this home for 4 years and I'm finally starting to feel a sense of neighborhood. It takes time and effort. I'm so glad it's finally paying off.

Bobbi: Thank you!

Fearless Chef: Beautiful comment and so true. We can share things AND feelings. That is what community is about.

Gina: Pshaw! That's what I said when Arduous wrote her sustainability post. Your comments on Hurricane Rita hit a chord. So often, we hear about a disaster bringing us close together. Eco Burban Mom wrote about a similar circumstance a while ago (can't find the post). I guess the key is to hold on to the community that forms in the wake of a disaster and to keep it going when times are good as well.

Greeen Sheep: Cookies make all neighbors more neighborly. :)

Beany: It has taken me a while to get here too and the more I push myself, the more comfortable I feel. Maybe someday I'll even be comfortable enough to bring up TEOTWAWKI. Or not. Maybe I'll just keep picking berries and making jam and sharing lawn equipment. :) It's all moving in the right direction.

Green Resolutions: See my response to EcoBurban. We've lived her for 4 years. In fact, I've live in the Bay Area for 12 years and I feel like I'm just starting to find/build a community now.

Bugs: I'm sorry. It is amazing how isolated we've all become and how unwilling we are to step out and help one another. See my responses to EcoBurbs and Green Resolutions. Building a community takes a lot of time and hard work and sticking your neck out. I've felt down about it so many times but finally feel like I'm coming into my own.

Ruchi: Absolutely. It makes sustainable living within reach for everyone - even people who didn't know that they wanted to live sustainably. It also makes it a lot easier to spread the word.

Stephanie said...

I'm going to have to remember all this when I'm off on my own and trying to be a part of a community in a new town. Sadly our current neighbors used to be really nice but something happened and our two next-door neighbors went insane and one can't ever act courteously to anyone, so unfortunately I can't effect these ideas here...

I am working on getting more local foods into our house though. We had green beans from the garden last night! They were the best green beans I've ever had, aka a really good reason to eat locally.

Bobbi said...

Neighborhoods? What's that? We live in our cars where I am. When we first moved in, I used to stop in the middle of the street to say hi to someone - one car to another.

Part of my sustainable goals include actually looking at the store clerks I'm interacting with. Eye contact when we both mumble on autopilot: 'have a nice day'. I have to admit that it's painful for me.

But I figure that just because someone works for a big corporation, at the local level, they're just another human being, not the faceless Military-Industrial Complex and that they deserve respect.

Simply Authentic said...

This is great! I would have to agree that what we need is more community and less individualism. Have you read the book Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam? It speaks on this very subject....I think you would enjoy it! What a great post!

Green Bean said...

Stephanie: You are so right. Living lighter often means living better. Nowhere is that clearer than when it comes to feed. Locally grown produce is bar none the best food on the planet!

Bobbi: Ha! I know where you live - right near my parents and sister. I visited there last week and it is quite difficult. I thought of you while driving down one of those massive streets lined with strip malls that didn't used to be there when I was in high school or even college. I was so proud of your efforts when I see what you are up against. Keep fighting the good fight. Starting with store clerks is a good place to start.

Simply Authentic: You know, I have not read Bowling Alone. I've seen it cited in dozens of books and thought of reading it. A friend suggested, instead, reading Better Together which apparently was written by the same author after Bowling Alone. She said it was more about solutions. I'll have to look into both of them when I'm done with The Big Green Purse. Thanks for the reminder.

kale for sale said...

I love this post.

Julie Artz said...

We chose 10 years ago to move far away from family and friends (here in Colorado, we're just about halfway between Matt's native Oregon and my native Indiana). I feel like I've spent all the years since that move trying to surround myself with just the type of community you mention. It's what's missing from so many of our modern lives and would help us so much as we strive for more simplicity.

Of course, I appreciate my virtual community too, and love the way movements like APLS can bring folks together who might otherwise never get to interact.

Thanks for a great post!

Bobbi said...

You were nearby and didn't let me know?!?!? How could you? Next time, email. Just a cup of coffee. Anyway, thanks for the support.

Green Bean said...

Katrina: Thank you, K!!

Julie: You are right. It IS what is missing but, like you, I think if we strive for simpler lives, we'll slowly build it back.

Bobbi: I didn't realize you lived there until we passed the Oak Park something or other and I remembered seeing that on your blog. Then, Arduous told me the city you live in. I was born and raised there!! We'll be back in town for Thanksgiving and I promise to let you know. It's a busy time of year but hopefully we can grab a cup of coffee or something then. :)

Bobbi said...

You were born and raised in Oak Park!?! Did I read that right? What are the odds of that? The Starbucks in Oak Park during Thanksgiving vacation - pencil me in.

Theresa said...

I have a dilemma. Maybe it is because I get too caught up in the semantics of things.

I haven't put the APLS logo on my blog or written about it or linked to it or anything, because I just don't think my lifestyle, even now after all the changes I've made, is actually sustainable. I still use way more than my fair share of, almost everything, and according to the 'footprint' quizzes I take, still requires more than one earth's worth of resources to sustain.

When the APLS moniker was adopted, I wished it had better reflected that people are working towards being sustainable in their lifestyles. That would've wrecked the acronym though -- Affluent People Attempting to Live Sustainably (APATLS) just doesn't have the same panache.

I'm being a bit of a party pooper I guess, but does anyone else have a twinge of misgiving about all of this? Or am I just being too semantically concrete about the whole thing? I worry that if the APLS moniker does eventually get wide attention, media and/or otherwise, that we will have oversold ourselves, and perhaps lose some credibility. Anyway, that's my dilemma.

Green Bean said...

Bobbi: T.O. actually. But I do know the Oak Park Starbucks. ;-) Let's plan to meet then.

Theresa: You curmudgeon, you! Just kidding.

A lot of people did broach the whole Living Sustainably thing. You are so not alone. I devoted a blog post in response. It is here:

http://greenbeandreams.blogspot.com/2008/08/sustainable-superheroes.html

Let me know what you think.

Theresa said...

Well heck Green Bean, maybe the APLS thing applies to me after all! Thanks for directing me to your most excellent post on the topic :)

Robj98168 said...

LOL I thought from the title this was a post on ME!!! LOL. I am interested in the garden movie. tell me how you liked it!

Green Bean said...

Theresa: my pleasure. I'm happy you emailed. :)

Rob: Um, between you and I, I was thinking about you. ;-) Shhhhh.

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