Over a year ago, I decided that my lifestyle was not in harmony with my beliefs. I was dreaming of a smaller planet but living for a bigger one. I shopped recreationally. Fed my family frozen dinners wrapped in plastic. Used my dryer. Those things changed and my footprint slimmed down considerably over the last 18 months. My impact is now roughly 30% of the average American. Could I cut back more? Sure. It would be difficult at this point but I could do it. My family living at 10% of the average American's impact, though, would not solve our collective environmental woes. Climate change would still churn forward. Over 60 percent of Americans would still believe that drilling for oil will lower gas prices. WalMart would still sell cheap underwear imported from China.
And so my blog has gradually changed focus. I write less and less about personal changes. Do I still believe we should hang our laundry out to dry? Bike to work? Shop at the farmers' market? Absolutely! I write about those things from time to time. But I am increasingly focused on something else.
Reducing my impact is only half the solution. The other half lies in gathering numbers, gaining momentum, building community.
There are a million ways to do it. Sign up with a local green group. Join a church or, if you already belong, attend an event or volunteer to be on a committee. Put together an email list for the neighborhood. Plant a garden in your front yard. Set up a cocktail table in a cul de sac. Ask other parents at your child's school about carpooling. Ask a neighbor to borrow an egg or a cup of sugar. The ways to build community are as simple and as limitless as can be.
But here's the catch.
Building community is hard. It will tug you out of your comfort zone. It will force you to interact with others - particularly, others whom you do not know well or at all. That is, after all, the point.
In many ways, it is easier to make your own yogurt, plant an edible garden, make jam in a silent kitchen. That is more comfortable for most of us and certainly for myself. I don't have to talk to anyone when I harvest lettuce or stir in the yogurt culture. I can sit in the quiet cocoon of my own home and reach out only through wires and cables. I don't have to look at anyone's face. Or struggle for something to say. Or wonder afterwards if what I said sounded stupid. If I talked too much or too little.
Building community is hard.
And we are out of practice. Over the last few decades, we've moved away from block parties, bunco games and bowling leagues to nursing homes, TiVo and closed shutters. But being out of practice doesn't mean out of possibility.
All it takes is one brave soul to attend a meeting for Habitat for Humanity, send out an email on a school or mothers' club listserv, offer to set up a CSA, or sit on his or her front porch and make conversation with neighbors and passersby.
That first step is the hardest. But here's the truth. The second and third step are hard too. Building community takes time and it can be draining. It also can be exhilarating. Meaningful. Satisfying. Warming. Rewarding. And so many other wonderful, magnificent things.
Connections do not need to center on the environment. In fact, you'll probably get a lot further if your intention is just to connect and not to convert. Bringing environmental enlightenment can come later and can come naturally. New found friends will eventually notice how you live, what you care about, what you work toward. Just by connecting with others locally, though, you'll lessen your and their impact on the environment. You may share a meal, lend a tool, carpool, pass down clothes and toys.
Are you that one brave soul? Can you take that first small step? Put an idea out there? I won't lie. It is hard. Initially, it will be scary. And uncomfortable. And sometimes disheartening. But the payoff is huge. The payoff is a community you can rely on, a cooler planet, a safer home, a more effective government. The other half of the solution. The payoff will allow us to adapt to our changing climate.
* Photo courtesy of http://www.iofoto.com/