Monday, January 11, 2010

Making a Cultural Shift

There's a lot of talk among environmentalists about making a cultural shift. There's no way around it - it's going to have to happen if we as a species want to survive. It's also going to have to happen if we don't want to dramatically damage the homes of countless life. (A lot of people argue that the Earth doesn't need saving because it will always bounce back - but that can't be said of the nature spirits we're killing directly and indirectly. So stop shrugging off the blame!)

But back to the point of the post. It is so difficult to imagine Western Civilization making such a dramatic change. The ignorant masses (I hate to use this incredibly pejorative term, but it's an accurate one.) refuse to shift and cling to bad science and irresponsible dogma. Then there are the poor. People from a low socio-economic background often find it incredibly difficult to make big changes, even when you argue that some of the changes would save them money. And let's face it - soda is often cheaper than wholesome juice. And as long as food stamps allow people to purchase junk, that's what most people will get. (Yes, I know - controversial statement!) And then there's... people like myself and many of my social circle. People who are aware of the need for change and are attempting to do it baby step after careful baby step. Finally, there are the people with real balls - the people who live the change. They only bike/walk/use public transit. They get most of their food from their own property. They live off the grid. They reject consumerism. Gods, I wish I could be one of them...

Living in Northern NY makes such a shift VERY difficult. (Saying this could be an excuse, a sign of ignorance, or a reality - it could be all at once. Let me know what you think.) We're "doing the right thing" by only having one car, but I find myself wishing we had two so that I could go ram-rodding around on my own while Ron is at work. Not very environmentally responsible of me, huh? Luckily, I live two-three minutes from my place of employment. I want to start walking and cycling more. I'm inspired by the stories about year-round cyclists. I need to practice more but I may just try to become one next winter. Ron can't walk or cycle to work considering it's 30 minutes away by car. He's got a job and I'm grateful for that - but until we start using more public or man-powered transit, we won't be very sustainable. This is something I want to work more on...

But there are other areas besides transportation - areas many people are arguing about as we speak. Let's look at some of them.

1) Going vegetarian / vegan. People have been arguing for years that this is one of the most important changes you can make in your life to help the environment. It amazes me that Al Gore goes on and on about change and yet STILL eats meat. To be fair, he has said that he's limited his meat consumption. This is good. If you eat meat, you should try and limit how much you eat. Try going veggie on weekends. It will save you money and make less of an impact. Even better, if you must eat meat (there could be health reasons, for instance!), shun fast-food and anything that isn't local or killed by your own hand. Going veggie? This point - I agree with.

2) Stop eating fish. I started to notice this a lot a year or so ago. Many scientists are indicating that we have severely fucked up in regards to the oceans. There are huge pools of plastic in multiple oceans, plastic in our beach sand, chemicals leaching into the fish, and over fishing. Don't get me going on overfishing - it will seriously make me froth at the mouth because I get so, so angry. If you can't give up that cheese burger, AT LEAST consider giving up seafood or limiting it. For some really good information, check out Overfishing. There are also fish that aren't as in danger so, if you must eat fish, go for those. (FYI - tuna is not one of them.) Giving up fish? I agree with that.

3) Overconsumption. This is the part where things start to get really, really tricky for people. I don't know about you, but I was born into a material world. As a child, if I wanted a toy, I got it. Oh yes. I was spoilt. Most of us were, even if we don't think so. Look at all we have compared to the countries with significantly smaller carbon footprints. And what is most of that stuff made from? You guessed it - plastic. What was that infomercial that used to be on tv? Plastics make it possible? A friend once pointed out to me that plastic is necessary for most medical equipment. My husband is quick to point out that plastic is necessary for electronics. Ok. Fine. But do we really need so much disposable crap!? Seriously - where is our ban on plastic shopping bags, NY? Are you not washing and reusing your ziplock bags? Why? It's so easy and saves you money.

Disposable crap aside, the hardest part is stopping ourselves from overconsuming. Let's face it - we like things. They make us feel happy. We enjoy that illusion. Heck, I'm an artist and art is often about making things. Granted they aren't on a mass-produced scale, but some of the materials I've accumulated are so, in that sense, I'm guilty. Reusing things in my craft has become very important to me. Again, baby steps.

My husband's number one hobby is playing video games - something I'm getting more and more into. But more games equals more plastic discs and packages. Would the industries lose money if they went all digital? My husband argues yes because without one-time install discs for games like World of Warcraft, people would pirate. And on top of that, there's the servers! People talk about wanting to live on Pandora, but are they truly willing to go cold turkey hunter-gatherer? That equals work, people! Do you think most are willing to go that far? Part of me feels so trapped by my student loans. College = a good job = student loans = stuck in the system. I can't be a hunter gatherer because that doesn't bring in the income required to pay off my student loans! So I shrug and whine about it on my fancy iMac. Oh yes, I suffer from extreme eco-guilt. :P

So overconsumption. I agree that it is an issue but it's not an easy one to solve. People like treasure and they like convenience. It's human nature. Only the bravest of us seem able to let go and live on the fringe. I want to attempt to consume less and less. I really want to try and buy less garbage. I'm a big advocate for second-hand clothing and renting rather than or before buying brand new. That's a start, I suppose. I think I get a little better every year... I hope.

4) "Ditch the Dog." That's the new one and arguably one of the most controversial. Some scientists are citing pets as horrible for the environment - worse than owning a car! A lot of this has to do with the food (remember, factory farming is bad for the environment and where do you think the kibble comes from?), but there were other arguments that I forget. I don't know what will become of this. I mean... seriously, do these people want more homeless animals on the street? If anything, people need to step up, be responsible, and fix their pets. Seriously, though, I am not about to euthanize my cats and ferrets. You could also argue that humans are bad for the environment (which, hell, we are!) so we should ditch our children. Because that makes sense... While there are valid points to the argument, it seems kind of faulty. Fix your pets, yes. Consider a raw diet, yes. (I'm hoping to start my cats on one this year after more research.) Ditch them? Where would they go?

So those are just some thoughts I've been having. If you actually read the whole thing, you deserve a cookie. An organic, vegan cookie. :P Most of this probably sounded really controversial or accusatory. I'm not trying to point fingers as I'm guilty too. If anything, I'm trying to start a conversation about the issues and possible solutions. What are you doing to change your impact and shift your culture?


  1. I'm not sure it's more work to go hunter gatherer. I was under the impression that agriculture was much more work than finding the food that nature has created and sustained.

    Other than that, I could have written this (much less articulately :) ). You have pinned the issues to the board.

    The biggest thing I do is refrain from owning a car, but when folks are driving in to town to pick me up and take me out of town, I don't kid myself about the ecological impact. I've thought about gathering a group of consumers to ask the local bus co. to run lines out to parks, but I'm afraid of starting something I won't be able to finish. There was a time when I tried to get involved and start things, but I found that something always came up to get in the way. It's not like paid work, where people show up everyday because they have to. Just plain promises don't make people show up or do the jobs they've been designated. Someday, I am going to take a grant writing course. Then, I will be able to make things happen.

    Food stamps also allow people to purchase fresh goods at the farmer's market and seeds and gardening supplies. Often folks struggling with money are missing the things that make preparing fresh foods possible, like working appliances in their kitchen, the time or money to transport themselves to a grocery as often as fresh veggies need replacing, or even tupperware, a blender, a salad spinner to keep their lettuce from turning brown. I'm not making excuses. There's usually something a person can do better. It's just that I've been living in a poor neighborhood for five years now, and I can't believe how many people there are here who have lived for years with only a microwave for a kitchen. But that's besides the point.

    My current baby step is preparing my own foods from scratch and freezing them rather than buying prepackaged stuff. I'm not yet succeeding all the time, but I'm doing better than I was a month ago. I've also begun noting when my meals are vegan and trying to rotate those through my meal plans more frequently. Maybe that will be my next baby step.

  2. Thanks for your reply! I really appreciate it! My hope is to at least discuss these things with people, especially people who are trying like myself and understand how hard it is.

    Your point about people unable to afford kitchen or gardening equipment really hit home. I hadn't thought of that before and yet it's so obvious. I love those crazy aha! moments. I would really love to see more community gardening. I was even thinking of asking the property manager here if I could attempt starting one, but then I realized that that could be a lot for me to bite off right away when I'm still learning the ins and outs of gardening. I don't need group politics to botch up my own passion - not yet anyway. My goal this summer is to meet more local farmers and start buying from them. Maybe then I'll learn of an organic farm looking for volunteers or something like that.