Sunday, January 25, 2009

going green out of my mind

I became an environmentalist in the early 90's, in college. I helped start a college recycling program, which failed miserably, because drunk people can't or don't want to sort their bottles and cans. I attended a few environmental conferences, and a few of the more radical speakers made an impression on me. I worked for a while after college, reading and watching and talking all the while, but not doing much. After I started staying home with K, I got involved in a loose anarchist collective that staffed a radical open space and starting doing things. It was fun and I met a lot of awesome people, many of whom are still friends today. We left the space because our existence there was challenged by power-hungry peace activists. Then I dropped out of that scene too. There had to be some sort of way to do what I felt was needed, without dealing with all the bs, without continually pushing the boulder up the hill.

I know what I'm against, but what am I for? This question haunted me for a while, because I hadn't thought about it enough to be able to answer it. Eventually, I figured out I am for my family and community, which includes the entire community of life on this planet. I am for people having time to spend with each other and time to grow and cook and eat healthy food. I am for learning, learning to think for myself, and for retrieving useful skills from the dumpster of history. I am for figuring out something different to do, something besides building deserts and landfills.

Despite being a long-time environmentalist, I have grave reservations with the whole going green movement. Obviously, it's been co-opted, especially when it is focused on marketing products to gullible people with an excess of money. How is buying a ridiculously expensive downcycled plastic purse going to overcome planet-wide desertification? Going green is a movement celebrated by people who are unwilling or unable to think for themselves, it seems. Our local paper had a advertisement about the going green team. Well, it sounds interesting, but it wasn't really. It's about carpooling to work a couple of times a week, using green dishwasher methods, turning down your thermostat, etc, (which are fairly meaningless to someone without a car, dishwasher, or central heat). All these things that use slightly less energy, but come on! Is this going to turn the tide of desertification? of mass extinction (including us, I presume)?

Hybrid cars, again, sound like a solution, but roads still consume massive amounts of energy to build and maintain. Cars and roads have produced sprawl, which continues to eat up some of our nation's best soil. I watched the movie Broken Limbs yesterday and saw apple orchards in Washington state bulldozed to make way for yet more Wal-Marts. Is this the product of a sane civilization? Even solar panels are energy-intensive to build. One solar power critic said the panels take so much energy to make that you'll never see a return on the energy investment put into producing them. Well, if not solar, then what? What can take the place of oil and coal in our collective appetite to consume everything? If we had started solar and wind energy back in the 70's, when these ideas came to light, we'd have enough feedback now to see if what we were doing had a positive effect in our world. But alas, we squandered those 40 years building parking lots and McMansions and even wider roads. And we're experiencing the feedback of those actions now. Was it worth it? Did it make a change for the better?

We can look at places like Easter Island, where some weird quirk in their culture caused them to cut down every last tree on their island, causing erosion and species extinction on such a massive scale as to decimate their population. We can look back in hindsight and see what obvious stupidity it was. And yet, here we are, corporate bulldozers in hand, burning off forests to raise cattle for McDonalds and build yet more dead concrete big boxes.

I sure don't have the answers. I'm only starting to get to feeling like I have some answers for myself. But I do have some observations. Keep in mind this is just one housewife's opinion, the ideas of an urban homesteader who's been reading and thinking, and can type quickly.

I don't see any way to replace pieces of this system that it will hold together. The system of unlimited consumption is bound to fail, given a finite planet. This is obvious. So, what? Where do we start from here? Yes, there are the quick and painless things--easy things--like recycling, turning down your thermostat, and conserving water and electricity. This seems like things that should be done as a matter of common sense. Not wasting resources is a no-brainer. But our whole system is set up to consume as much as possible, so then what? How do you go about your life not using a system that has been set up to make it as easy on you (and yet as poisonous to our habitat) as possible?

I'm not a Democrat or a Republican. I don't have a lot of faith that any president is going to lead us into the promised land. The problems we face are too massive for that--the problems are more massive than the U.S., more massive than the civilized world. I think what it will take is each of us thinking, reflecting, questioning our thoughts and actions, and doing something different. If we continue doing the same old thing, we cannot expect a different result. If there is to be a human culture in a thousand or ten thousand years, it will be because we began enacting a different story.

We attended the Slow Food Film Festival yesterday, put on by Slow Food Springfield. It made the point that food is a good place to start. What kind of agriculture do you support by your buying and eating habits? Mass industrial agriculture that erodes soil and pollutes air and ground water, enriching the biggest of the big corporate suit-wearing farmers? Mass industrial factory farms that torture and medicate animals until the day they die, again, polluting air and ground water? Do you support mass industrial organic farms that again, erode soil, pollute, and enrich the biggest of the big organic corporate suit-wearing farmers?

Or rather, do you support local growers, those with their hands in the soil, those who build healthy soil and contribute to healthy communities, those who care for animals in a way that enriches their habitat instead of destroying it? Do you support yourself, as you walk out your front door and gather healthy living food for your nourishment? Here's a starting point, and to me it is a quick way to make a vital difference in one's own security and one's own community.

For every high-tech solution you could buy if you were only wealthy enough, there are low-tech solutions available to all, and are generally much more effective. Why buy expensive out of season organic food produced on an industrial scale and shipped halfway around the country or world, when you can grow your own food and preserve it for the off-season? Instead of installing solar panels, make an effort to reduce your consumption of electricity. Is it that hard to turn off your lights and computer when you leave the house? Instead of buying an electric car, walk or bike or take public transportation to where you need to go. Instead of spending your life working a job you hate, learn to live at home and do for yourself what you used to purchase. Instead of buying eco-friendly gadgets, tap into the waste stream. Now there's abundance!

There are meaningful things you can do that do not even show up on any "going green" challenges. Learn to see beauty in all that you do and experience. I personally have seen more beauty in Springfield's ghetto than I ever have in the spiritually-impoverished west side. There is beauty everywhere, waiting to be noticed. It is a bit of the divine on earth.

Seek out community. Meet and establish relationships with willing neighbors, with those who ride the bus with you, with those whom you have a lot in common. There is a lot to be said for the gift economy, but this is actually a lousy translation of the money economy. It's not about giving and receiving gifts as translated from dollars, but about giving and receiving help and care--the accounts are never balanced. It is relationships that endure to the end of time, lasting throughout generations.

Read, think, analyze, learn, share. Do something different. Change yourself, be open to feedback, see what works. Develop deep and lasting relationships with people and the world around you. These are things that make a difference. And notice, they are things that cannot be purchased; they are not trends that can be marketed. What can be co-opted is bound to fail. Going green is hooey. There is something more, waiting for each of us to discover, walking our own paths, thinking our own thoughts. I can feel beauty everywhere, but most of all, I feel it inside of me.


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