I wasn't happy with my last post. To be fair, I write these for my own intrinsic purpose so what does it matter? But even by that standard my last post felt, upon reflection, more pessimistic and frantic than I want in the electronic record of my existence. As I mulled on my discontent, I realized that what bothers me most about the discourse around the pandemic is how Americans (as a stereotype) have responded. We are stereotyped as caring more about our personal liberty than one another's health (or right to life). And the entire period, rather than being a challenge to our ingenuity, is an example of how poorly we can sustain an effort. We want it to be over now. We want to go "back to normal." Cynically I have to wonder if my Grandmother was as vocal about wishing the Great Depression was "just over" - an event that went on for 10 years. Or were my parents ever vocally annoyed and irritated that World War II couldn't "just wrap up" and take them back to normal - instead of dragging on for 6 years and 1 day? When our current woes, and how we respond to them, are portrayed in the press I can't help but think that, geologically speaking, we sound like a whiny impatient bunch. We're bad at handling grief and, as a former IT colleague of mine put, "not very good at delayed gratification." If all of this is really true, I'm pessimistic about how we will handle the "next" largest looming challenge - climate change. If we truly value personal liberty above all else and we are unwilling to make any sustained effort to change our behaviors for the betterment of all mankind, I'm afraid the climate change disasters are unavoidable.
So I'm writing this post, C'mon now, because that's the talk I give to myself in response to posts like the last one or even paragraphs like the one above. Because I'm a born optimist. I still believe there are things we can each do to help the planet and all of our co-inhabitants. I need to believe the aphorism attributed to Thich Nhat Hanh that "Our own life has to be our message." This is the only response I can have to the anonymity of the 230,000 dead who did nothing more than be in the wrong place at the wrong time in the Tsunami or the 250,000 dead who did nothing wrong this year other than to be exposed to a killer new virus.
I try to remind myself that these challenges are not new. Writers such as Benjamin Nicholson warned, in 1653:
". . . You wallow yourselves in the earths treasure like swine in the mire, and never consider that the earth is the Lords and the fullness thereof, and that he hath given it to the sons of men in general, not to a few lofty ones which Lord it over their brethren: and if any poor creature steal a horse, ox, or sheep, he is either put to death, or burned in the hand; but you never consider how many horses, oxen, and sheep you steal from the Lord and use them to satisfy your own wills and lusts." (Gwyn's Sustainable Life, pg. 115)
It's an odd comfort because it reminds me that these problems - of how we think about our earth and land, how we use or steward it, how we sustain or act to improve it for future generations - have been with us as long as humans have walked the earth. Generation after generation there have been selfish humans and others that give. I want to be one of the givers. I want to help others be that as well. I want to be, as Rabbi Sacks puts it, "living the we" rather than "living the I." (Rabbi J. Sacks, Morality: Restoring The Common Good In Divided Times, 2020)
So I'm making a list of ways I can live while hopefully improving, by some small measure, the future for all of earth's creatures. I challenge myself to see how many of these practices I can uphold as well as expand and share, with kindness, to increase the possibility of these become norms. And I'm emphasizing those practices that leverage the lessons I've been learning during the pandemic (resilience, importance of breathing and meditation, kindness to others, patience, the importance of human contact). These can join my electronic record and, hopefully, serve as a reminder to me when I'm feeling hope-less.
1) Consider how I eat and the source of my food. Food is nutrition, but too often it is also recreation, reassurance, reward. Recommit to eating sustainably and, primarily, for nutrition.
This isn't just about animal welfare. Benjamin Lorr's book, The Secret Life of Groceries, is just the latest in a series of books written over the years warning about dependencies that are unsustainable (50% of our fruit and 80% of our seafood come from outside America?); exposing the chimera of food safety and labeling ("3rd party certification does not exist to solve a problem in the world, but to solve one inside of me, [the consumer]." (pg. 211); and the demonstrating the eco-destruction of transportation now that every product we currently use or eat comes from somewhere else, "..even if you are driving the most virtuous Prius-Tesla-Volt in the world, your lifestyle is still burning through hydrocarbons like the dickens." (p.90)
2) Consider the sources of greenhouse gases shared with me during Earthwatch's education series(one is above) and note how many are in land use, agriculture, building and transportation practices. Are there other actions I can take to reduce my impact?
3) Establish a true gardening practice and continue to sustain those who grow locally. Enlarge the garden I started recreationally during the pandemic in a mindful way - growing the items we will eat (low waste) and learn to compost to reduce our garbage. In my art, learn how to dye with natural dyes and procure my fiber locally. As a by-product of this, provide more native plants and support the wild areas around me. Make it easier for the creatures around me to sustain themselves.
4) Don't give in to the temptation to purchase a car that gets less than the wonderful 40 mph I now get from my hybrid. And reconsider how I could live without driving at all. Manage my jealousy watching others embrace the RV life I once imagined I'd have as they travel during the pandemic. Be happy for them that they can exercise this privilege. I also have privilege - privilege of choice and, now, the gift of time. Time I can use to evaluate my need for long distance travel and identify the greenest possible ways to do it when the pandemic allows us to do it again.
Remember what a privilege it is to travel at all. And remind myself of how long it once took us to get from one point to another. How can I get the same refreshment of mind and spirit without expending resources "just" to see a new vista? And if it's my friends and family that I miss, how do I reach out and stay in touch with them without travel? Be mindful that our current state of IT - with an increasing obsession to Zoom and cloud technologies - also come with high social and environmental costs. Become better informed about these.
5) Support communities less fortunate than I am. Environmentalism is no longer "just" about the birds and bees. It now includes environmental justice recognizing that "being green" is a luxury for some and a way of life over generations for others. I have to see the inequities in our current systems and ensure that new laws and practices are for all communities, not just my own back yard. I need to ask others what these laws mean to their communities. I don't know the answers. I need to trust their answers. I need to Listen.
6) Continue to refute "fast fashion" and commit to recycling, up-cycling, creative reuse or mending to extend the life of the clothes I already own. Practice sustainable weaving - where fibers are locally and sustainably made and my woven projects have purpose and utility.
Last, but probably first, continue to accept new suggestions for this list! Be open to suggestions, new data, new ideas. Record them. Share them. Again from Rabbi Sacks, "if you're going to be a leader, lead at a speed that people can follow."
Most importantly, I can't lose hope. For ultimately when it comes right down to it, I still believe there is truth in the quote attributed to Margaret Mead,
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”