(As seen in the Green Living Journal Winter 2016)
“What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” Thoreau
The theme of this issue is Healthy Home. Gosh, how to narrow that topic down. First of all, Home means so many things to people. For me, both when I was growing up and now as an older adult, home means refuge and comfort, warmth, companionship and good food and getting to be myself. I know that’s not the case for lots of folks which makes me sad and grateful all at once: grateful that I have had such a positive experience of home, and wishing that others had the same sort of experience to moor them in life.
But in thinking about this essay over several months now, what keeps coming back to my mind is healthy home in the larger sense – Home as in our Planet Home. We get everything from the Earth: water, air, shelter, food, every single thing. Yes, all of our stuff comes from resources extracted from the planet. The first time I heard that my mind was definitely boggled. It was a “Wait! What….?” moment while I rolled that idea around in my head. Of course all of our stuff comes from the Earth. Where else would it come from?
Just as one needs to take good care of a house/home and keep it well for safety, comfort and resale value, it’s even more important to take good care of the Earth which provides all of our needs so it can continue to do so now and for future generations. And, of course, that includes not only the needs of humans but of all creatures, animate and inanimate. Nature’s benefits are known as Ecosystem Services. Those services include the following:
• Drinking water
• Wood fuel, natural gas and oils
• Plants that can be made into clothes and other materials
• Medicinal benefits
• Water purification
• Erosion and flood control
• Carbon storage and climate regulation
How do we make sure that we are using only our share of what the planet provides and still be able to have a comfortable home for all? In my class, Less is More:Getting to One Can of Garbage a Year, I share this excerpt from Radical Simplicity by Jim Merkel:
“Imagine that you are at a potluck buffet and see that you are the first in line. How do you know how much to take? Imagine that this potluck spread includes not just food and water, but also the materials needed for shelter, clothing, healthcare and education. It all looks and smells so good and you are hungry. What will you heap on your plate? How much is enough to leave for your neighbors behind you in the line? Now extend this cornucopia to today’s global economy, where the necessities for life come from around the world. Six billion people, standing shoulder to shoulder, form a line that circles around the globe to Cairo, onto Hawaii over ocean bridges, then back, and around the globe again, 180 times more. With plates in hand, they too wait in line, hearty appetites in place. And along with them are giraffes and klipspringers, manatees and spiders, untold millions of species, millions of billions of unique beings, all with the same lusty appetites. And behind them, the soon-to-be-born children, cubs, and larvae.
A harmonious feast just might be possible. But it requires a bit of restraint, or shall we say, a tamed appetite, as our plate becomes a shopping cart, becomes a pickup truck – filling our home, attic, basement, garage, and maybe even a rented storage unit with nature transformed into things. As we sit down for a good hearty meal with new friends and creatures from around the world, what is the level of equity that we would feel good about? At what level of inequity would we say, ‘Wait a minute, that’s not fair?'”
Jim Merkel, Radical Simplicity
I remember reading once about how migrating birds which have been nesting in the same locations forever have reached their destination only to find that their home was no longer there. It was now filled with a housing development. Can you imagine coming home from a long, exhausting trip to find your home now taken over by someone else? It’s not like those birds can check into a motel.
Now remember, every single thing we choose to do has an impact, so it is easy to make some simple efforts and have a positive impact all at once. Isn’t that gratifying? I love knowing that I have control over the majority of choices I make. One such choice is to inform myself of the consequences that arise from those choices. That way, I am able to do my best to help keep our beautiful Planet Home healthy and in good working order. A question to consider is “If changing my habits helps the Planet, am I willing to change?”
Here are some of the resources that I have used to help me make more informed choices: The Conscious Kitchen: the New Way to Buy and Cook Food – to Protect the Earth, Improve Your Health and Eat Deliciously by Alexandra Zissu; Choices for Sustainable Living, a discussion course from Northwest Earth Institute (www.nwei .org); Raising Elijah by Sandra Steingraber.
Visit this link from the EPA for ways to make more sustainable choices: https://www.epa.gov/learn-issues/learn-about-greener-living