Monday, August 31, 2015

My Life as an Environmental Hypocrite

Where do I even begin?!  They say that confession is good for the soul.  Well, I am a terrible person. I do things that I actively criticize others for doing.  I can be arrogant―sometimes quite high-horsed―and justify my own bad choices with weak excuses I would see right through―if only they weren’t coming from my own mouth.  I use plastic water bottles constantly―I buy them by the caseload.  I don’t always recycle unless it’s convenient.  Not all of my eco-crimes are due to laziness, however.  Some are just plain economics.  For instance, I drive a minivan because of the Tribe, but can’t afford a second car for when I’m not driving them.  Not many of us can afford to drive the most efficient vehicle at all times.  I drink a lot of water, and I’m forgetful.  I forget my stainless steel water bottle almost every day, but I still need water where and when and how I want/need it.  I always forget to put the reusable grocery bags in the car and then tell myself that I will remember them next time. And then I throw away the plastic bags when I get home, but don’t put the reusable ones in the car.

I am not a bad person and I do genuinely care about the environment, despite appearances.  I do believe that we can change the tide away from complete environmental disaster, by changing our practices.  It would be easy to say to me, “Well, just remember” or, “Keep them in your car at all times” or, any number of other perfectly-logical and reasonable suggestions.  I’ve heard them all.  But the problem remains.  And I suspect, I am not alone in this.  

As Americans we have a culture that thrives on its own success.  It prides itself on accomplishment―and the symbols of that accomplishment.  Symbols like materialism and  waste.  What we choose to throw away is as big a symbol of our success as what we choose to keep. When one is doing well, they can afford to be wasteful, after all.  None of us can afford to be wasteful, of course.  But there is a certain arrogant pride in knowing you can just buy another one.  This one has a smudge on it.  Throw it away.  Look at all those water bottles in the recycling bin.  I am soooo well hydrated. Kudos to me.  Except you often can’t recycle water bottles.  And it takes six or seven times the amount of water in the bottle just to manufacture the bottle itself.  Sometimes I wonder how I even sleep at night.

I hear of a term called “carbon footprint.”  It literally means the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels by a particular person, group, etc. But it can also refer, in a more general sense, to the amount of negative impact you, or a corporation, makes on the environment.  Some hazards are unavoidable due to cost or lack of technological development.  This is true in the case of my minivan as well as in the case of truly appropriate disposal of nuclear waste.  

Cars will eventually become more efficient and nuclear waste will eventually find suitable technology to render itself harmless.  My faith tells me all of our problems have an eventual solution inherent within them.  But in the meantime, what do we do?  How do we answer to our inner need to protect the planet while also acknowledging that we are not very good at actually doing anything about it?  

We are very judgemental of ourselves.  We often create solutions to our problems that have a vaguely-punitive aspect to them.  We don’t tend to come up with solutions that allow people to make the change from where there are and instead we make them jump through enormous hoops.  We need to accept that society is what it is first in order to devise solutions that will actually work. Americans are self-absorbed and profit-minded.  We will only perform a function if we know why it needs to be performed and what the benefit will be.  When we don’t fully cognize the benefit, we don’t buy-in on the change of behavior being asked of us.  Americans do not typically follow orders blindly. The country was founded by people who wanted to be the masters of their own destiny and that has thankfully remained unchanged.  But this is a double-edged sword.  We want to know why before we choose to act.  And then we judge ourselves and others harshly for not acting fast enough or well enough.  So how do we combat this lack of self-forgiveness when coming up with a plan?  How might we leverage what we know (and must accept) about our human tendency toward self-absorption to create a better world?  We must first accept our failings and forgive them or else every solution we come up with will have that lack of forgiveness built right into it.

In Christianity it is described that God sent his son to save the world.  True or not, this story describes a scenario in which we as a species were being forgiven for who we were first so that we could be shown a new way that would take gradual effect over time.  It is one of the hidden lessons of that faith.  If God was angry and judged us for our cruel behavior toward one another, why not just blow it all up?  Obviously there was hope.  Obviously there was something in us not only worth saving, but worth gently teaching.  Nudging us, in collaboration with the teachings of other earth masters, over thousands of years, toward greater compassion and refuge in one another.  Teaching us that we are all One.  Teaching us that we are part of an interdependent web of all things.  If we were not being accepted for who we were first, then progress could never be possible.  We were not horsewhipped into being compassionate or neighborly.  We were shown with love and self-sacrifice so that eventually we might emulate it of our own free will.

I must accept that I am more loving than I often behave.  I am more patient than I often show.  And I care for the earth more deeply than I often act.  I am a contradiction like us all.  I forgive myself for these things because that is the only way to find a solution away from them.  According to an online calculator, my personal carbon footprint is 5 metric tons of CO2 per year.  I could purchase a 5 metric ton “carbon offset” for $75 from the Nature Conservancy who will put the funds toward forest conservation―our best hope at cleaning the atmosphere.  I can also take further steps toward reducing waste.  I will likely get better and so will technology over time.  Perhaps solutions will come in time to avoid disaster, one can only hope.  But for now I will do what I can, forgive myself for what I cannot, and continue to nudge myself toward accurately expressing the love for this planet and her people that I truly feel.

To check your own carbon footprint using the Nature Conservancy’s free calculator visit 

* (accessed August 2015)

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