Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Good Enough Environmentalist

I thoroughly enjoyed Abbie's How Green Are You Quiz last week - gleefully checking off the answers and pleased to find myself a nice shade of Emerald Green.  I gave myself a pat on the back.  Not bad for someone who's been on the eco journey for some time.  Long enough to have sampled almost everything "eco" and thrown a good share back as not me, too difficult or too kooky.

I still got it!  I may drive too much in my minivan, I may not line dry my clothes any more, and I may have resorted to occasional yogurt tubes in lunch boxes despite the plastic but hey, I'm still green, ya'll!

Landing on "Emerald Green" was a hollow victory, though.  And not just because Abbie meant her quiz to be tongue in cheek.  No, it was hollow because I realized that I have finally reached the place in my environmental journey where I ask the much pondered question:

Do individual actions really matter?

For the past four and half years, I've walked and biked all over the place.  I've frozen my buns off.  I've grown my own vegetables and eaten 90% local for a couple of years. I gave up almost any sort of disposables, eschewed new for second hand, and have been eaten alive by guilt over things like: forgetting my canvas bags, buying garden starts in non-recyclable plastic pots and springing for new sweat pants for the boys for school.

And you know what?

I'm more afraid to write about climate change today than I was in 2007.  Then, most Americans accepted climate change for what it was - scientific fact.  Today, it is a political hot potato, most Americans do not believe it is true.

Despite the disbelief, more people are "living green."  Heck, most Americans prefer organic to conventional food but I'm not convinced that individual action will get us where we need to go.  Resorting to cloth wipes and canvas totes hasn't put a dent in global warming yet.  So how do we get there?

This week is a two week of protest against the Keystone XL Tar Sands pipeline.  Something that climate scientists call a "game over" for climate change if Obama allows it to go through.  Environmentalists are calling on people to come to Washington DC, protest the pipeline project and risk jail for civil disobedience.  Another member of the Green Moms Carnival is going.  I'm awed.  I'm wowed.  I'm jealous.  And I am afraid.

That the media will not cover it.

That it won't make a difference.

And mostly, afraid to make any sort of commitment like that.  Instead, I'll stay home and make some yogurt from organic milk bottled by a local company in a returnable glass bottle.  I'll can my homegrown tomatoes and then hit the thrift store for back to school clothes.

Will it be good enough?


Alison Golden - The Secret Life of a Warrior Woman said...

I tend to agree that it is the moral imperative. I don't know it will make a difference but I have to do what is within my power or I end up feeling hopeless and impotent. It also gives me the authority to influence others, especially my kids and it makes me feel good. Yes, it's all about me and maybe it doesn't help on a macro level but we all have to do what we think right in our microcosms or else we get into a depressive downward spiral and that wouldn't be helpful. At all.

ruchi said...

This is a depressing comment, but after years as a personal environmentalist, I think that what individual action can achieve is highly limited.

I still think taking pubic transit is important as paying that bus fare (instead of driving) ensures that there's demand for the system and keeps lines operating.

And I think probably the greatest thing an individual can do is become a vegetarian (which I'm not) or at least limit their meet consumption (which I do.)

And of course it's important to vote.

Other than that, I'm afraid that I don't really think that individual action has much effect, especially when it comes to climate change.

Betsy (Eco-Novice) said...

I really appreciate this post. In my humble (not terribly informed) opinion, individual change is powerful b/c any green changes you make tend to lead to other changes and greater awareness and make it more likely that you will sign a petition and help create the political will for policy change. Now if EVERYONE had a garden, bought local, stopped using disposables, that would indeed make a difference, but it may take a long LONG time to get there with folks just making decisions based on the current incentive system placed before them.

My greatest wish is that someday things will actually cost what they cost (in terms of environmental damage, pollution, health problems, etc.), and then I wouldn't have to do all these mental gymnastics all the time to figure out what I should do. Price would actually mean something, and I would pay for any cost I inflicted on the earth.

I also think making individual changes is important to me personally because one of my personal/spiritual values is to take care of the earth, so it's important to me in terms of who *I* am and the kind of person my kids turn into that we try to buck the dominant consumerism of our day and go back to some of those scrappy puritan/pioneer values of self-sufficiency and frugality.

This is a long comment.

Stephanie G. said...

Ug. Pull at my heart why don't ya? As discouraging as it seems, imagine if there were NO individual actions. We would most certainly be worse off than we were before. But I agree that some big thing need to happen...and soon.

Rosa said...

I'm firmly on the side of politics. That's where change happens. And part of that is being willing to stand up for science with people we love who don't want to think about it (which I fail at way too often.)

But some of the individual changes -the ones that make you happy, that keep you healthy, that make a difference to another individual (even if it's a frog, or a stranger you'll never meet) - are worth it, because they make the other changes possible. Like Ruchi said - you really are voting with your dollars, you really are suggesting things to other people that worm their way into their consciousness.

I like to think my years of telling kids I babysit "no we do not kill things for fun, it's mean" made a minor difference in the way they see the world, especially if nobody ever said it to them otherwise.

And I watched a bunch of kids at the Duluth Aquarium today, learning *why* you don't put some things down the drain - they kill the little beasties that clean the water before we put it back into the lake. And then take it out again to drink. I have to think that will stick with SOME of them.

Green Bean said...

@Alison - Yes, we do have to do what feels good. I think that may be my primary motivation lately. I garden because I love it - and because it will feed my family in hard times. But, I don't necessarily think it will make a dent in climate change.

@Ruchi - Unfortunately, Ruchi, I tend to agree with you. I used to feel so passionately about personal environmentalism and thought it would help. I still think it is important to vote with our dollars and live lightly - if only because it is the right thing to do - but I think we need more. Much much more. I'm curious what you think about the effectiveness of civil disobedience? Or what other tactics your average citizen should take?

@Betsy - Good point about green living leading to green activism. I hadn't thought of that but I agree.

@Stephanie - True. Things could be much worse but let's get that big thing, whatever it is, happening soon! :)

@Rosa - Yes our actions do influence others and I do believe that that sticks. I think environmental awareness is increasing and from that, hopefully environmental action on the parts of governments and corporations will follow. Also, I hate to admit it but you are right. We do need to speak out about climate change - even if those deniers are in our own families or social circles. I really really need to work on that one.

Rosa said...

p.s. I forgot to say - getting arrested for civil disobedience can be a lot of fun. The holding cells are like little parties half the time, you meet AMAZING people, and they usually process people quickly and send them on their way.

No pressure, just personal experience for anyone who's thinking about going. It's a totally formative experience - it makes things like "speaking up at a city council meeting" a lot less scary.

robbie @ going green mama said...

I have to agree with Stephanie - imagine if no one did anything. And it takes individuals' actions to lead business or government to make changes too.

Sure, your homemade yogurt and canning may not account for much, but think of the downstream...Perhaps you and others are keeping your town from a battle over building another landfill. Or keeping additional chemicals from our water. It's a small thing, but it's a big something, too.

Green Bean said...

@Rosa - Thanks for the inside view. :)

@Robbie - That is such a good point. I've never thought of that. Now I feel a wee bit better.

Lisa Sharp said...

I am also very worried but I do think personal action makes a difference. I was apart of helping get curbside recycling in my town and I know that will make a big difference. Sure it won't end climate change but it's a good step. If we keep taking steps, even small ones we can make a big difference.

Green Bean said...

Thank you, Lisa, for the more uplifting look on personal environmentalism. I needed that. :)

oneearthtolive said...

I started out so high and mighty, I was going to MAKE A DIFFERENCE, and then started on my personal quest and all the line drying and gardening and breadmaking and tomato sauce making took so much of my time that I did not have time to spread green, just to do green. But along the way some friends and family took notice at what I was doing and started doing the same. Maybe their friends and family will do the same? Maybe I created a ripple?

I just have to try.

I don't know why most people don't believe in climate change, it does not make sense.

As for Keystone, I live in Alberta, only a few hours drive from those destructive oil sands. Please don't take our oil. Please don't build the pipeline. Obama please say no.

solar panels said...

"I tend to agree that it is the moral imperative." - Kudos to that. I believe it's not only about which costs less or what. It's about acting humane and being concerned about the general well-being of everybody, not just mindlessly consuming resources.

Angeline said...

I agree that we need to start within ourselves to help our environment. I am an environmentalist as well. One of the things I do to ensure that I can help our planet maintain its natural beauty is that I use biodegradable plastic bags. It is important to reuse, recycle and reduce to help mother nature.

Dumpster Container Rental said...

Making our environment clean is easy only if we know how to throw our garbage and other waste materials in the proper places. It is recommended for every house to have a container that will serve as thrash can. This will allow us to save mother nature in our own ways. We can also recycle some of these materials to maximize their importance and help our ecosystem.


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