For the past couple of years I've been working toward living a more sustainable lifestyle. My friend Wendy's efforts to deal with the plastic bag issue have really gotten me taking environmental concerns even more seriously than I had been. There's this real live person, that I actually know, caring about the same things that I do; the community aspect of it amplifies the energy that I have for it. In a movie I just watched, No Impact Man, it's observed that our disconnection with the harm we are causing has happened because of our loss of sense of community, so that none of us feels very accountable as individuals; the people that our choices affect are nameless, faceless, don't even really exist for us -- out of sight, out of mind.

That's been very true for me. For most of my life I consumed thoughtlessly. I spent years living in Eugene, Oregon, which is a stronghold for the environmentally aware, and I would see people with their reusable jars full of bulk goods on their kitchen shelves, and have no idea why they were doing that. It didn't even occur to me that there might be a reason that I could inquire about. To me, it was just part of the hippie landscape like patchouli and tie-dye. It's only been recently, as I've been challenged by outside sources, that I've started to think about it. This highlights the importance of outreach and education. It can't be assumed that people will just get it on their own. They need information.

So there is ignorance that needs to be dealt with, and this is why it matters so much for people to talk about what they're doing and why. Not to make others feel guilty, but to give them access to information that they may have had no idea was even there and would appreciate having. But ignorance is only one part of the equation: we have also greed, complacency, and a sense of hopelessness. Greed: No, I do not make money off of planned obsolescence, plastics, white paper, and garbage, etc., but the desiring and demanding of convenience at the expense of others is certainly greed. Complacency: Because I'm comfortable enough that it's easy to not spend my mental and emotional energy worrying about these things. Hopelessness: It doesn't matter what I do because I'm only one person and nobody else cares (or, at least, the people with the power to change things will not,) so why bother putting myself out for it?

Here's the process that started changing my perspective:

One: Experience being affected by non-sustainable, polluting practices. When my husband and I moved to the country, I assumed that we'd be breathing cleaner air. I made this assumption because I had never thought about how agricultural and paper products get to me, the consumer. Unbeknownst to me, these processes were happening where people live (of course they are, how could I have been so dense,) and I was soon to be one of those people who live where it's happening. Pesticides, sulfuric compounds, smoke, and dust from chaff and dry soil being churned up all combine in a murky haze that makes it hard for my children and I to breathe, and who knows what the chemicals are doing to us. Before? Completely unconcerned. Now? So angry I'd be more than happy to put these people out of business if I had the power to.

Two: Realizing the personal benefits. The alternatives to exploitation of people for wealth, planned obsolescence, abused animals, toxic chemicals in the soil, air, our bodies, etc.: are nicer for me. They taste better, feel better, look better, wear better.

Three: Ethics logic. I may not be able to stop the mugging of a person, but that doesn't mean it's fine and dandy for me to join in. I'd be horrified if someone even suggested it. So why is it that the same thing doesn't apply on a larger scale? I don't think it's right the way things are, yet every day I live in a way that looks an awful lot like I love it, because the money I spend supports it. That is just completely nuts. It doesn't matter if I don't have the power to change it on a large scale, for everybody; it's still completely nuts.

The challenge is how not to live this way when it's all I've ever known and when the system is set up to make any other way inconvenient and difficult.