Sunday, April 20, 2008

Should I join them or beat them?

"Sometimes you have to act as if acting will make a difference, even when you can’t prove that it will" --Michael Pollan

I was seriously going to write a long blog entry today or in the near future about one of the major sources of the stress I've been feeling lately: the environment. I was even composing my blog entry in my head as I was running yesterday, and coming up with the title. See, the environment (or more, The Nature Conservancy, a group that works towards preserving the environment) is the cause that gets most of my charitable donations every year. But I don't just give money to good causes and hope they take care of everything on my behalf. Back in high school (i.e., ~1989-1993), I wrote an essay about how humans are destroying the earth (where's my Nobel prize?). When voting, I consider the environmental and science policies of the candidates first and foremost. I commuted by bike for 9 years (and now I carpool), I've used reusable shopping bags since way before they were cool (and endured dirty looks from supermarket baggers because of it), I pull my co-workers plastic bags out of the trash at work to bring home to dispose of dirty cat litter (questionably environmentally friendly, I know, but at least I'm reusing the plastic bag before it goes to the landfill), I've been vegetarian for 20 years (in case you don't know, mainstream meat production is a major source of environmental damage), I combine as many chores as I can into one outing in my car and plan the shortest route, etc. etc. But lately, I've been even more anal about things. I recycle every scrap of paper, I limit my purchases much more than I used to, I get mad at companies that send me catalogs I don't want (which is all of them) etc. The thing that stresses me out about all of this is that I feel that all my actions are so unlikely to help anything--I think of all the people who needlessly drive large SUV's, all the people who just buy buy buy stuff they don't need, then toss the packaging into the garbage rather than recycling it (I live in an apartment building--I've seen what gets tossed into the garbage (plenty of recyclables), and what gets tossed into the recycling bin next to it (not much, and some things that shouldn't be there)), all the people who toss their garbage out their cars (lately, I've been picking up after them at the lake I run at), all George W. Bush's anti-environment policies, and on and on. All those people are counteracting all my positive actions, and I feel so useless. And it's stressing me out. Well, then I was doing my usual Sunday morning perusal of the New York Times today and saw that Michael Pollan, one of my favorite people in the world right now (because of the things he writes about) had written part my essay for me:

Here's the relevant part for what I was talking about above:

"Let’s say I do bother [to do something about climate change], big time. I turn my life upside-down, start biking to work, plant a big garden, turn down the thermostat so low I need the Jimmy Carter signature cardigan, forsake the clothes dryer for a laundry line across the yard, trade in the station wagon for a hybrid, get off the beef, go completely local. I could theoretically do all that, but what would be the point when I know full well that halfway around the world there lives my evil twin, some carbon-footprint doppelgänger in Shanghai or Chongqing who has just bought his first car (Chinese car ownership is where ours was back in 1918), is eager to swallow every bite of meat I forswear and who’s positively itching to replace every last pound of CO2 I’m struggling no longer to emit. So what exactly would I have to show for all my trouble?"

What Michael said.

For the record, Mr. Pollan goes on to argue that we (I) should keep trying, using growing our own vegetables as a good example (I am a member of a CSA so get my vegetables locally... is that close enough? I also grow my own rosemary on my deck ;-)  ), and that WE need to act rather than waiting for the government to make rules to MAKE us change (when's that going to happen anyway?). And hopefully, going "green" will go "viral"--that if I set a green standard for those who know me, it might just catch on, become the cool thing to do. So I won't give up hope yet.


Christine said...

For all those unwanted catalogs, here's just the web site that's needed -- it works!

Samantha said...

I actually asked to be delisted from one of those centralized catalog places (maybe the one you mentioned) about 5 months ago, but I still get some unwanted catalogs (I ordered that one bag for you, mom, from Travelsmith, and have been getting catalogs ever since). I wrote to one company (Sierra Trading Post... both Jesse and I were getting catalogs!) directly, and they very quickly and politely took me off the list. Today I got ~4 pieces of election ads (San Diego is having our non-president primary in June). Grrr. That's what I get for being permanent absentee and "independent."