As seen in The Green Living Journal
Along with the new year comes time for reflection and new resolutions. It is once again an auspicious time to pause and evaluate what has been in the back of your mind, perhaps something that has been trying to get your conscious notice for a while. For me, this season is just right for taking stock – lots of darkness, perhaps candlelight or a fire in the fireplace, a cup of tea – time for contemplation. What would I like to accomplish? What needs to be paid attention to?
Making behavior changes takes a certain amount of attention and resolve. While my permanent resolution is always to lose weight and exercise more, this year I’ve decided that I’m going to think larger (no, I don’t mean I’ll try to gain weight ?). Climate change has been getting the majority of my attention so I am going to work on reducing the weight of my climate impact, and exercising my mind by learning more about the consequences of my choices and behaviors. That will help me be able to choose smarter, more informed options. I want to think larger than myself since we are all in this together, and by we, I mean all life. And I want to know that I am trying to make a difference, that I am thinking about more than my own seemingly small circle of influence. I want to be able to look young people in the eye and say that their future was worth making some changes to my personal actions for their sakes.
It is sometimes hard to see that we are all interconnected, and that we are obligated to each other and to all of Nature; if natural systems fail, we all go down together. It is also difficult to grasp that everything we do has an effect – either positive or negative – and that our actions matter. We’ve probably always known this deep down if we take the time to stop and think about it, but that’s not always so simple in our hectic lives. Plus, some voices tell us that one individual’s actions can’t make a difference. Humbug! If you stop doing something that causes harm, that makes a difference, and if enough of us stop causing harm, think of the changes that will come about. Now we have an excellent opportunity to choose to demonstrate that we along with our choices and actions do matter.
I have had the good fortune to be on the curriculum committees for many of the discussion courses for Northwest Earth Institute (now rebranded as EcoChallenge). We previewed articles to be considered for use in the course books, and all that reading opened my eyes and my mind to that interconnectedness that I have referred to. It also provided me with the “WHY” that I needed to begin to understand the importance of how my behaviors have an effect well beyond myself. It was our motivation for reducing our garbage – we understood that everything we threw away was extracted from the planet and went to sit in a hole in the ground forever, and that we humans were using up the planet’s resources faster than they could be regenerated. Over several years, we have reduced our household trash to just one 32-gallon can annually since 2006.
Sometimes it’s a challenge to learn how our daily habits affect climate change. What do you notice yourself and others doing that seems wasteful? How do we even know what is truly wasted beyond what goes into the garbage can? Who knows that plastics that are in contact with food and beverages can disrupt your hormones? Or that synthetic clothing is made of fossil fuels, and most release microplastic pollution into the water when they’re laundered? Or that streaming an online video uses so much energy, energy that may be coal-powered. Or that all the shipping of goods across the oceans is increasing ocean acidification due to the pollution caused by the dirty fuel the ships use. It certainly isn’t common knowledge (and why isn’t it, you might ask). How do you compare the trade-off between convenience versus impact? You have to look further and deeper to find the connections.
Our book group just finished reading a book entitled Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have by Tatiana Schlossberg. She divides the book into four sections: Technology and the Internet, Food, Fashion, and Fuel. I learned a lot more than I knew about these topics previously. It was kind of mind-boggling, eye-opening and upsetting. Yet it was also empowering, because if you don’t have a deeper understanding, you don’t know that changing your behavior is important and makes a difference. With more information, one can do something. Now that I know more, I want to make this year’s resolutions reflect that new awareness, to have them be green resolutions.
So how does one go about making green resolutions? It may help to ask yourself some questions: What matters most to me? What do I need to learn? Who can I help? What am I good at? Here’s what Tatiana Schlossberg writes: “Living in a way that honors your values is important, even if your personal habits aren’t going to fix everything. We need to remember what is at stake, and the small sacrifices that we make may help us do that, if you need reminding. If we know what our sacrifices mean, and why they might matter, we might be more willing to make them.”
I’ve been trying to decide what changes I can and will make going forward. Here are two of my resolutions:
- I will be even more aware of my clothing purchases. I don’t buy many clothes now that I’m retired. I have plenty of clothes, some from the 80s and 90s that I still wear; it pays to buy good quality. These days I shop resale and thrift stores for the most part, but occasionally I will buy something new, though almost never at full price. However, now that I have read about the many impacts of the fashion industry, I will dig deeper into the brands and their practices, as well as how the fabrics are made and what they are made of. I learned that the boom in cashmere production, while making it more affordable for middle-class purchasers, has led to desertification and climate change in Mongolia. I also learned that fabric production uses huge amounts of water, and that toxic dyes are released into rivers.
- I’m still pretty old school when it comes to shopping for things. I prefer to go to brick-and-mortar stores because I like to see an item in person to decide if it meets my needs. I also like to support local businesses so they don’t disappear. But occasionally I/we order something that needs to be shipped. Having learned about the environmental costs of convenience and the air pollution caused by trucking (about 20 percent of all transportation emissions), and because I live just above I-5 near the Terwilliger curves and see soot on my windowsills all the time, I will make a serious effort to avoid ordering merchandise to be shipped to me.
I want to add another point that I’ve been hearing and reading about lately. It is that those who create the pollution – whether it is emissions from generating energy or drilling for oil, or the companies that make single-use plastics, oil spills or toxic waste to name just a few – aren’t the ones who pay for the true costs of it. It shouldn’t be our responsibility to figure out the most sustainable options. The companies that are making the money need to be responsible for their products. We need to hold them to account. So, my final resolution is that I will speak up: I will write to those businesses, I will (continue to) sign petitions, I will join in actions.
These green resolutions could lead to a green revolution. Now that’s something to look forward to and to work toward.