As you know, dear readers, my thoughts of late have often been drifting toward climate change. An offshoot of that is that I ask myself, I ask We the People, What can be done? This isn’t a new question for any of us. My generation has grown up with disastrous statistics of the earth’s slow and quicker forms of degradation, yet increasingly we are reaching a critical mass. Change doesn’t need to happen by 2050, it needs to happen by 2030.
When I started studying Permaculture and having divergent thoughts about society, politics as usual and culture, my dad and I butted heads a lot. I remember him often cajoling me that I was a hypocrite because I drove a car, I consumed, I used electricity based on coal. I was nothing but an idealist. For many years I let this voice guide me and I acted against it as a counterbalance. Fine, I said, I will try to be as pure as I can.
For a couple of years I didn’t own a car and when I lived in the outskirts of Los Angeles, I biked everywhere and when I couldn’t bike, I took public transit and had a small moped I buzzed around on. This worked, for a while, but the toll it took on my physical body was too great. I also ended up waiting a lot and it caused me to be inefficient with my time. The 12 mile commute on my moped to massage school was brutal in the pre dawn cold and I would show up with frozen hands – not ideal for massage! When I took the bus, the circuitous route and many bus changes meant that my commute took around 2 hours. Yet most of all, my body became tired. My lower back started to hurt frequently and I had signs of adrenal fatigue. I wasn’t a climate superhero, I was a human who was burning herself out. How could I balance my ideals with my situation?
Our system simply isn’t built (in most places) for people to lessen their use of fossil fuels. Yet for those of us who feel acutely the pain that comes as a biproduct of living with open eyes and seeing the exploitation and theft, what can we do? We witness Amazonian communities where big companies come in for oil and to deforest, raping women, destroying communities and polluting water and land – all for more oil, more timber. How can we continue along as if nothing has changed when we see increasingly that it is getting more and more difficult to extract oil from our earth’s cavities with greater environmental and social cost and pollution? To drive and continue guzzling gas seems heartless and cruel, yet most of us continue to do so out of necessity. Though we care, we are inevitable hypocrites.
Somewhere around this time, while on a soul searching bike tour where I visited many intentional communities of people seeking to live out a visionary sustainable shift, I met Ini. We hitch hiked around and finally bought a car that ran on veggie oil. This seemed like a great alternative, although far from a perfect solution. Emblazoned with the good vibes of driving on a waste resource, we watched YouTube videos of farmers growing fields of sunflowers and processing the oil themselves to make veggie oil or biodiesel. Hopeful and passionate, we wondered why this wasn’t a larger movement. News has always been out that “the government” (or some hidden large power) has the plans for incredibly fuel-efficient cars, but that they’re hiding it from the public to serve big oil interests. I envisioned fields of sunflowers grown for alternative fuel use and veggie oil stations popping up all over the United States.
As we went around looking for veggie oil we could strain and process to use in our car, I realized that most people don’t have the psychic or physical energy, let alone time, to endeavor such a thing. If it’s not immediately economical for people, it often doesn’t get done. Isn’t that so often the bottom line? Time, energy and money? In lieu of prioritizing ecological action, the necessity of capitalism entangles all of our actions. It’s how we are bread to think and behave. Usually we don’t choose jobs or lifestyles based on true passion, but because they’re economically stable or lucrative. We need to change the bottom line, but how? We all have to eat and wouldn’t a little security later in life be nice?
These days as the next guard of politicians are coming into office, we are faced with a wave of butting heads. Like my dad, a seasoned “old guard” of his generation, laughed in the face of my idealism, many “old timers” see the new politicians and their visions as ludicrous. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one who is daring to dream big and head up the Green New Deal. Shortly after it came out, she was heavily criticized for using car transportation (ostensibly instead of always using public transit- do they know how much longer that takes and how many stops simply aren’t on routes?) and because other aspects of her campaign weren’t ecofriendly. What a hypocrite, they said, She wants to implement a Green New Deal and she’s not even green!
Her rebuttal was key because it’s the world we all live in unless we want to be radical variants like the man who lives without using any money. She’s trying to get things done quickly and efficiently within the system she is trying to change. We all live within this system that causes pain and suffering, usually offloading it to developing countries by extracting their resources, polluting their environments and by damaging their communities. Out of sight out of mind. If you are sensitive like me, however, it doesn’t matter whether the pain is caused in your backyard or in a perpetually disenfranchised population states away like the Indigenous people of the United States who face many crimes at the hands of our government, not least of which is continually broken promises and treaties.
The fact is that we are all connected, we are interconnected, and pain and exploitation somewhere is connected to us all, especially if we are living comfortably as a result of another community’s exploitation.
With all of these thoughts lately, I’ve wondered if the actions of those people who are trying to make steps toward a more sustainable life really matter. Specifically, do my actions matter? As @geke so pointedly publishes each day, the military is shelling out billions of dollars per day and it’s depressing and frustrating to think of where that money is going.
In the face of a global war machine, polluting corporations impervious to checks and balances, and industrial “civilization” that eclipses individual action, do my actions even make a difference?
I brought this up with a friend who came over last night. She insisted that our actions do indeed matter and gave Paul Stamets as an example. Stamets is the leading researcher on mushrooms and how they can save the world. His research includes using mushrooms to purify contaminated water, clean up toxins in the environment, as well as heal the human body. His work is groundbreaking and inspiring and he is a driving force for good action in our world. He is someone we can look to and feel that our individual actions do matter, that by following our passions we can find the balms to heal the wounds of our world. After she said that, I realized that she was right. Individual change, paired with key policy shifts and pressure on large corporations to be held accountable for their pollution and actions, are where it all starts. We make up the whole, after all.
We live in a time when there is like a knee-jerk reaction to look up – up the ladder. We look to the big bodies to fix things or to stop things. It’s up to the government to shift it or this business or that organization. We are angry at Facebook for stealing our data, yet millions continue to use it and hand over our data each day. We want them to change, instead of taking a different approach to realize that each one of us makes up the We and we are a part of the Them.
It is disheartening that so many people are choosing rampant consumption rather than look at the impact of our human actions. I scream inside every time I read the statistic that Americans make up 5% of the world’s population but consume 24% of the world’s energy. I cannot change the minds of my fellow Americans. I can’t shake them until they see the destruction their consumption is causing and will continue to cause for eons. I can only change my actions.
For too long we have chosen comfort over aligned sustainable action. I read statistics and I cry and cringe – about plastic pollution, which I wrote about the other day, and studies that say that all of the subjects tested had phthalates in their urine – phthalates that disrupt hormones, neuropathways, cause cancer, and more – and that these are in plastics which are passed around haphazardly (would you like paper or plastic?) and wrapping most of the consumer goods that we buy. I realize that this stuff is taking us over, we don’t know the side effects of it long term, and what we do know is horrific. We’re basically swimming in a sea of hormone shifting plastic, but this is an article I will write for another time.
You may ask why I continue to study these things if they make me scream, cry and cringe. I keep reading because I want to know where we’re at. I want to take an honest look at the state of things and act accordingly. My soul cannot live on this earth and just act like life is going on as normal because it’s not. We aren’t our parent’s generation or their parents who had an American Dream that didn’t already have a bazillion holes poked in it. Unlike them, because of the internet we can see the devastation our actions are causing world round. The American Dream is not a dream everyone can realize – on the way to every human getting it, resources would be long gone and the earth a catastrophic wasteland.
I’m here for a reason and that reason isn’t to blindly consume and make money at a job that contributes to the devastation of the earth. I am here to be an earth warrior, not a blind consumer.
How can I enjoy myself when I know that on Navajo reservations that have reaped the negative impacts of having coal plants and mines on their land (tapping already low aquifers, being one impact) thousands of families still don’t have running water or electricity in their homes. How can I live a comfortable life on the back of that inadvertent sacrifice the Navajo people have been forced to make? I don’t see the chasm between their experience and mine.
It is not out of sight out of mind for me, which is why we decided to make our homestead off grid and solar powered (yes I know solar power isn’t perfect and has its fair share of environmental harm.) But you see, that’s the catch 22 I mentioned at the beginning of this article. We cause harm while living within this system. As much as I’ve tried to divest from it in so many ways through growing my own food, building our buildings ourselves with as many natural materials sourced as locally as possible (because the modern building industry is a nasty unexamined business as well), heat with wood sustainably harvested from our forest, and chosen a life of voluntary simplicity thrifting or buying second hand most things, I am still a part of it. Yet that’s not a reason to call me a hypocrite or others like me, for example.
It is my sensitivity which causes me to heed the results of my actions and which inhibits me from living blindly.
While living within a destructive system, until the system is dismantled and rebuilt block by block, we cause harm as we seek to shift things. It’s inevitable. It doesn’t mean I should stop fighting for principles I believe in and living it out to the best of my ability, and it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t, that we shouldn’t start where we are and still speak about how we wish things could be.
If I light a vision in you, you carry that vision now and it evolves and morphs inside of your being in a unique way that only your life experiences and soul can make it. It manifests in a unique way through you. Never stop dreaming and never stop believing that the seeds of dreams within your person aren’t the exact things the world needs to hear from you! Imagine if our great visionaries stopped before they started – if Paul Stamets became discouraged and never carried on his research into the potentials of mushrooms. The world would never be blessed with the fruits of his vision. I believe the same goes for all of us.
The world has enough of the old curmudgeons who have fit their lives to go along with the status quo and who will shoot down every dream you have before it makes its way off the ground. While they may have some wisdom about how the current system works, that’s not the only information we’re interested in. Yes, it’s helpful to understand the current system so we know how to change it, but revolutions happen and will continue happening. I believe our age is ripe for an evolution of that sort.
My age group isn’t having children because we don’t see much hope for the future and we’ve heard statistics about overpopulation our entire lives. How can we add to this mess of humans taking over the earth? These are seeds planted in us and in a myriad of ways they are finding fertile soil, abundant water and sunshine and they’re making their way to the light of day. Perhaps in the end, human action and greed will cause a mass scale die off of all life on this planet. Yet where I stand, I cannot know how this will pan out and I am a hell of a lot more satisfied living out the passions and dreams which make life worth living than defeatedly following along with the status quo. How does it line go?
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field Frozen with snow.Langston Hughes