Monday, February 6, 2012

A narrow view

Bea, of the Zero Waste Home blog fame, has sometimes been criticized for having such a narrow range in her environmentalism. Yes, she focuses on waste reduction in her home, critics say, but what about all the other streams of waste in her life? What about her family's driving, their plane trips to France to visit her family, their electricity, what about local food? To some extent, I can understand this criticism. (Although, unless you're Colin Beavan, I really don't think that you have room to criticize another person's efforts to go green.) It is a really narrow view of what it means to be an environmentalist. But at the same time, her efforts to reduce waste have led her and her family into other avenues of environmentalism. She shops at the farmer's market because the farmers (unlike the big producers) don't put stickers on their fruit and veggies, so it's led her to shop more locally. She buys mostly second-hand clothing because it doesn't come with the ridiculous plastic price tags that are ubiquitous on new clothing. She and her husband bought solar panels so that their electricity is cleaner. They switched from being a two car family to only having one--a used Prius. She takes her kids out to go pick up trash and cleans her neighborhood. And through her blogging, she's been spreading the message of zero waste to others who might not have thought about it otherwise.
She's not the only environmentalist who could be accused of having a narrow focus. One could attempt to only buy used things, like Katy-Wolk Stanley, the Non-Consumer Advocate. You could focus on toxics like Deana Duke of Crunchy Chicken (and her new book, which I read, "The Non-Toxic Avenger").
My point is really this: what is the purpose behind complaining that someone else isn't "green" enough? Why would you try to shame someone else for trying to make a difference, and to better the world? I guess I just don't understand.
What I do find sad, and frustrating, and what just pisses me off, is that there are so many things for environmentalists to focus on. It's absolutely ridiculous that we have to be such activists to simply live in a way that doesn't harm the world, or which harms less. Why do we have to be such tireless advocates for our own health and safety? Why don't people reserve their anger for that? Why don't they take a stand against the companies and the governments responsible for these issues? For every person who writes an anonymous negative comment on the web, think of how much would get done if they'd instead direct their energies to writing their members of congress. Think of how much would get done if they'd direct their attention to what they could be doing better. Even if those people just spent five minutes to stop junk mail entering their homes, what a difference that would make in the streams of waste, in energy used to create and send the paper, and in how many trees are cut down annually! It might not seem like much, just a few pieces of junk mail, but it would be massive if even one entire city's worth of people made a change such as this. And to think, it's something that costs you nothing more than a few minutes of your time to start, and saves way more time in the long run. (Less recycling, less mail sorting, etc.)
I realize that in making my environmental focus so wide ("wide" meaning "I want to do it all") I can also be criticized because I haven't gone all the way with my goals. Have I gotten down to zero waste? Nope. Have I switched to a completely local food system? Nope. Have I ditched our gas guzzling truck entirely, stopped making plane trips, or cut off our electricity? Nope. The honest truth is that I probably could meet one or two of these goals, but not all of them. At least, not all at once. Not even over a period of a few years. This is a project for an entire life that I've taken on. But I think that it's all important, so I don't want to focus on just one or two things. Because of this I just don't have time for all of the things on my list. The best I can do is make a little time here, a little time there, and streamline some processes to make it easier on myself in the future. I know that I'm improving and that's what matters to me. The important thing, really, is that I've found something I'm passionate about. I've found something I believe in, that's worth making changes for. So I'll keep working away at my goals, trying to make a difference a little bit at a time.
I've also struggled with doubts and worries about my efforts, especially when it comes to flying. I mean, we flew to Europe in the fall! Talk about a huge carbon disaster! But would I have given up that trip, the things we experienced, and the lessons we learned? Not for the world. And I know I will go on other plane trips. This year alone, I have friends getting married in Hawaii and a family reunion in Maine. Neither of those is a short plane trip. But the alternative is to give up my family and friends. Flying has become such an integral part of life in Alaska that it's hard to understand what it was like for the pioneers. And easy to see why so few women chose this life. (And still don't--we have an almost 2-1 men to women ratio.) Before flying was so common, people moving to Alaska pretty much cut themselves off from everyone they'd known before, except through letter writing. It makes you wonder, was it worth it? I probably never would have considered moving here if it wasn't for the fact that I could fly home to see my family and friends fairly often. And that would have been a shame, because I would have been with the ones I love in a place I couldn't stand living in.
This is one of those situations where it's hard to know what the right thing to do is. I can't afford to buy carbon offsets. In fact, the only reason I can even contemplate these trips is because we have free or reduced tickets waiting for us. I suppose the "right" choice for me in the matter of flying is just to pick and choose what's worth it, and to make my visits longer rather than more frequent. Hopefully someday they'll come up with a solar-powered airplane. Or a zero-emissions transporter, a la "Star Trek".

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