Thursday, January 31, 2008

Turning Green - Part 3

(Photo by Jesse Wolf Hardin)

In Part 1 of this series, I posed the rhetorical question 'Why hasn't everybody turned green yet?' My conclusion was that although most people by now know that our planet is in serious danger of ecological collapse, they haven't yet understood where they, as individuals, fit into the picture. They have not joined the dots. In other words, they don't yet fully realize that dozens of the small decisions they make, every day, make a difference. Each decision, even if it is as tiny a decision as turning off a light switch, either adds to the problem or helps to ameliorate it.

In Part 2, I said that it's hard to join the dots because of all those so-called 'market forces' that have a strong vested interest in preventing us from doing so.

As we know, our national and global economic systems are all based on a growth model rather than a sustainability model. And since every one of us is part of both a national and a global economic system, the systems need us to keep consuming so that the growth can continue. Even though, like cancer, it is growth that's slowly killing us.

The trouble is, if too many of us were to jump off our consumer treadmills, profits would go down. The companies would start laying off their workers. The workers would complain – and of course the workers are US. Ourselves, our partners, our children, our relatives, our friends … As Pogo said, 'I have met the enemy, and it is us.'

Most loggers don't personally want to chop down the rainforest; they just want to keep their jobs in order to feed their families. Fishermen have absolutely no desire or intention to reduce the world's fish populations to zero, they just need to keep catching fish in order to survive. People who work in offices and stores and on factory floors all want to keep their jobs too. So round and around it goes and life on Earth keeps heading towards catastrophe. Even if it is not your job that would be at risk if everybody stopped buying what they didn't really need, it might be your father's or your daughter-in-law's or your cousin's. And even if nobody you know would be affected, (which is highly unlikely) somebody would, somewhere. Lots of somebodies. The farmer in Kenya who stopped producing vegetables to feed his family (plus a bit more to sell in the market) and switched to producing cash crops for export so he could afford to send his kids to school needs me to keep on buying his carnations or his green beans or his cocoa and if I don't, his kids will starve because they can't eat carnations. We are all tangled in this together. So however can we possibly unpick it?

Well, I guess we unpick it slowly, carefully, one little piece at a time. The first step is to start setting up parallel, alternative systems and supporting the ones that already exist. Dig up the lawn and grow veggies, just like we did in World War Two. Stay out of supermarkets and support local stores whenever and wherever you can find them. Patronise farmers' markets and CSAs (community supported agriculture schemes) and local box schemes. Join a co-op. Switch to green energy suppliers, install a solar water heater, insulate your loft, lower the thermostat, compost your waste. If you live in the country, consider building a composting toilet. Leave your car at home whenever you can and use public transport or walk or ride a bike. Or at least carpool or consider sharing car ownership with other families like they do in Germany. Dry your washing in the sun and wind. Borrow books and videos from the library instead of buying them. Sign up to the 'compact' (challenge yourself to buy nothing for a year except food and other necessities). Stay out of the air as much as you possibly can. Reduce, repair, re-use, recycle, de-clutter, downsize ….
When we learn to differentiate between our needs and our wants, we can get sober (i.e. heal from our addiction to unnecessary stuff). We can stop being 'users' of consumerism's drugs. How could you reduce your needs so that you could spend more time with your family or in doing the things you love? How could you be fitter, healthier, more active, more creative?

Maybe we can also stop being dealers in consumerism's drugs, too. Think about your work: is it what the Buddha called 'Right Livelihood'. If not, would it be possible to use your skills in something more benign and better for the planet and still earn enough money to survive on?

Like relay runners, the two systems need to run side by side for a while until the new one can take over completely. Slowly, gradually, we are setting up alternative systems and at present these are running parallel with the mainstream ones. Little by little, the alternative systems are getting bigger and stronger. Compared to the vast system they are intended eventually to replace, they seem almost laughably tiny. Like a mosquito trying to replace an elephant. Yet on almost every graph you look at, they are growing. There are heaps more farmers' markets than there were ten years ago, lots more veg box schemes, more LETS schemes, more towns climbing on the 'transition town' bandwagon, more wind farms, more solar panels, more hybrid cars, more recycling schemes, more intelligent minds turning to research in alternative technology, more businesses trying to 'out-green' each other, and more and more people turning green.

When I was born, plastic had not yet been invented. When I was in high school there was no TV, no PCs, no Internet, no mobile phones, no iPods, no fax machines, no jumbo jets, no microwave ovens. A lot can change in a short time. We need big changes now. And as fast as possible. So how can we bring them about? Well firstly, by doing as Gandhi exhorted us to do and being the change we want to see. And secondly by visualizing a green, sustainable world. The more people who visualize it, the sooner it can come to pass, for thoughts have energy.

See the change and be the change. Those are our twin tasks.

This may be a mosquito-sized movement now, but as Gandhi also pointed out, if you think a mosquito is too small to matter, you have never had one in your tent.


janet copenhaver said...

What a great post! You don't post often but when you do, it gets my attention. Thank you!

Weeping Sore said...

Our job is to teach our children to un-learn habits of acquiring more stuff as proof of our happy and successful lives.

Like gardeners, we have to plant trees so others after us can enjoy their shade. The mosquito-sized movement will grow. Slowly, but still.

shadows and clouds said...

hello there. you are so right. and just the other day i was telling a class of my students of a similar saying i'd heard that if you think you're too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.
at home we do do quite a lot of 'aware' actions ourselves, but i know there's even more we could do too. and although i'm not a great 'buyer' and loathe fashions and such like, it would be interesting to try a year without things that aren't necessary. a really good idea.
some of the people we know think we're a little odd for the way we live (like yesterday afternoon the odd looks we got when walking home from a walk with our arms full of wild veg. we'd picked to be cooked) it's quite hard to get people to consider their ways, and to consider adopting new ways, but a lot of the people we know are quite interested, and hopefully some little ideas get passed on.

anyhow, i'm rambling. have a good day, all the best, nĂ 

Beverly said...

You have a way with make me think,"yes, my little part will help". I follow a wonderful mother in France and how she is having A Slow Year. She is

fiona said...


I love 'see the change, be the change' .. what an excellent mantra :-)

Anonymous said...

Just yesterday, I discovered an online service, Its point is to GIVE AWAY - not sell - items you no longer want that are still usable, rather than throwing them in the garbage.

This is a fabulous idea. It's all local, you type in your city/state or Zip code to find the local group in your area. Even here in Portland, Maine, there are at least three geographic groups so that people don't need to go far to pick up the item they have been "gifted" with.

I don't know if it is international yet, I didn't check, but the idea appears to growing and I think it's just excellent.

Elderwoman said...

Yes, Freecycle is certainly a brilliant idea. (I 'freecycled' a computer last year). And yes, it is international. There are groups in 89 countries so far, I believe, and you can find a local group in pretty well all towns and cities in the USA and UK. Like blogging, it is one of the many wonderful things the Internet has enabled us to do.

Sharon J said...

I think, as Na said, that we really need to start with the children and teach them not to become tomorrow's capital consumers, which, of course, means starting with ourselves in order to give them a good example. It's important they understand that we have choices and that the ideas put forward by the government and authority figures who are foremostly interested in growth aren't necessary the right ones.

A very thought provoking post. This is my first visit but I will definitely be back. Thank you.

Cheryl said...

I sometimes think that the things that I do will not make a difference. You have just made me realise that they do, for that I thank you. You are an inspiration.

julochka said...

As margaret mead said, "a small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." thank you for a very thoughtful and thought provoking posting. we all have to start somewhere...i have trouble cutting back on flying because of the nature of my work, but i buy organic and as close to home as possible--it's a start!