Greenwashing

If you knew how much crap I ended up sending to Landfill during our move, you would be horrified.

We re-used, we recycled, we gifted, we sold. And still, at the end of those three consuming weeks of utter chaos, I condemned enough plastic to be buried within in the earth to make an oil tycoon cry at the beauty of it all.

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Limited living space had not allowed for me to become a true packrat, but there was an inordinate amount of stuff that I had squirreled away, too guilty thrifty to just toss, too busy to ever actually get around to reusing. I vowed to never buy anything, ever again. And then I got in my car to begin what would become a thrice weekly hour commute, thereby canceling out all that air I spared by living in a walkable/bikeable city.

This was not the first time it occurred to me that we’ve all been duped into believing that our individual efforts will save the world.

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When the “official” drought decree for California happened this past winter, I ran across this article by Derrick Jensen, titled Forget Shorter Showers:

WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”? Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance.

I came of age in 1990, just as the environmental consciousness of the 70s was reemerging after the trickle down deregulation party of the 80s. But this time, instead of looking to our governments to do anything (since the Cold War and nuclear craze had made it clear to everyone that Uncle Sam was trying to kill us) we decided to take the power into our own hands. The economic prosperity of the Reagan-era helped us to believe we could buy our way out of the (recycled) paper bag. Better lightbulbs, dolphin-free tuna and organic foods were going to be our salvation.

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I think recycling is like going to church-you show up once a week, it makes you feel good, and you’ve done your duty. Then you can get back to all the fun of sinning! Michael Moore

As report after report about Climate Change is received with more and more overwhelm and less and less action, I am finding myself in a conundrum as an individual and also as an ecopsychologist. After changing my carbon footprint, my politics, my diet, my ability to navigate ecoanxiety, after honing my skill to help others facing similar terror in regards to an unstable future, after all that…now what?

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There’s a tone I’m hearing in our collective consciousness about all this, and I don’t like it at all. Having given up on waiting for our governments to respond, it would appear to be adaptation, but sounds more like resignation. A lowering of the head, a hunkering down, a fastening of the seat belt. Keep calm and carry on. And yet, what else is there to do? Even for myself, internally I have made peace in accepting what used to bring me to my knees…that much of what I love about living on a (less and less) biodiverse planet will be gone within my lifetime. Certainly within my daughters. And we are also not guaranteed the assumption that there will be a lifetime to live out. If we believe what the reports are saying, the whole “nasty, brutal and short” aspect of being a carbon based life form just got real. It’s already been terribly real for underprivileged parts of the world, but soon even first world status won’t help us. That is, if we “believe the reports”.

There is an aspect to all this that does seem to boil down to belief, or rather, how we think the world operates. God vs. Science is not a new conflict, but I wonder if it’s what’s at stake here. Do we believe in science, like a religious dogma, or do we trust it, as a tool of measurement? The former embroils us in a chicken or the egg conversation, the latter offers us the opportunity to take a deep breath and roll up our sleeves. But what is happening, is that information is doled out to us, rationally, logically, from the scientific community, and then we are left to make sense of it with our biologically stone-age brains.

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When it comes to animal intelligence, one way to really get my ire up is to compare the intellectual capacity of say, a chicken, to that of a human. Chickens can’t do math, write sonatas or make an ipad therefore = Chickens are stupid. Our current climate change dilemma makes me wonder if we are comparing the intellectual capacity of humans to that of a fictional superhero. Humans shit where they sleep (e.g. dump pollution into air and water), keep repeating the same mistakes and don’t heed the obvious warnings of a dying planet. Therefore = humans are stupid. Are we even capable of evolving quickly enough to stop the boat from going over the waterfall?

Some folks will argue that we’re not stupid, that in fact it is our development of technology that will save us. Others will say that it is our capacity to change consciousness that will cause a global shift in thinking and action. I’m not banking on either, and so I’m finding myself at a loss as to what to do.

Another article I read recently has turned my focus in another direction…to history.

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It’s easy—ridiculously easy—to show that the activists shouldn’t expect to win, and that whatever they did succeed in doing wouldn’t be enough to stop this massive global problem. But that is true at the beginning of every episode of extraordinary politics. That why histories of abolition, the civil rights movement, even environmentalism, don’t begin with people who are powerful, realistic, or even normal. They begin with people who don’t know better, and who find the world they are born into intolerable. Jedediah Purdy

This article in The Daily Beast, Climate Change Needs the Politics of the Impossible, synthesizes much that has been simmering for me, the thing that keeps me precariously balanced on the fence between knowing and not knowing. I don’t know how we’re going to rise to challenge. I don’t even know if we will. But I also don’t know that we WON’T.

So the age of climate change doesn’t just need climate scientists, or even technologists, and adaptation engineers. They are essential, but if we just rely on them, we’re likely to drift further into passivity and pessimism. We also need, in incremental and experimental ways, to keep building up a real politics of climate change. That politics will be both environmentalist and human-oriented, because there’s no separating the two in the age of climate change. It will have to ask how the peoples of the world are going to live together and share its benefits and dangers, and also how we are going to use, preserve, and transform the world itself. Braiding together human rights and distributive justice with environmental ethics and the human relation to the natural world isn’t just a nice-sounding, if daunting idea. It’s quite simply the only way forward.

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I am taking the weight of the world off my shoulders and handing it back. Knowing that going green isn’t going to cleanse my sins of human living is a relief. Rather than shuffling around and trying to erase my (carbon) footsteps, so much energy is freed up to focus on other things. Like political change, volunteering and assisting in ecosystem rehabilitation, bringing my passion into my work, and carrying on. But rather than putting a lid on it and keeping calm, I am investing in feeling more. This requires a lot of effort, in order to stay present and show up for myself, my family, my life and the ever changing (and alarming) state of the world.

We still recycle and DIY and I’ve really lost (even more) interest in consuming stuff. (Unless it’s something for our little house that enables the difference between living in a precariously toppled closet to living in tidy spaciousness.) I spent last Sunday building a compost bin out of old pallets, marveling at my adhoc pile I started when we moved in, only a month ago. Already, dark delicious soil was forming at the bottom center of my steaming, rotting heap.

It seems to be a good metaphor to count on, being able to trust in the only constant.

Change.

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6 thoughts on “Greenwashing

  1. I wish I had something valuable to add here, but mostly, I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciate this post, and your addressing the whole concept of personal versus collective. I find I easily succumb to personal > community, so that when I’m offered a much more holistic perspective I can’t help but acknowledge the role of my choices.

    Megan

  2. ditto to the above comment.

    i think about how i live my life; clotheslines, cloth diapers, farmer’s markets, composting, being scrupulous at the tap, etc etc etc….and who gives a shit?? just me, cuz it makes me feel good i guess. like you said, now what?
    reading your blog helps, i look here for direction, for perspective, this is the what now, this is what we do next. your blog is part of the collective.
    (love your photos!)
    xo

  3. Yes Mary, to all of this! And thank you for voicing my own questions and tentative answers so clearly and inspiringly. I have a feeling that a collective shift of consciousness will both spring from, AND bring forth, practical change.

    Being aware of everyone’s needs, human and non-human, leads to helping your neighbour – and our neighbour is the whole world. More than ever.

  4. i’m too tired to say anything that matters but i will say this: i really really appreciate you and your writings. and your photos. they give me hope, direction, and food for thought. you are doing amazing work my friend.

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