If we do not permit the earth to produce beauty and joy, it will in the end not produce food, either. Joseph Wood Krutch

Friday, August 3, 2007

So where do I go from here?

The more I see how my "American way of life" is subsidized by other people's suffering, the more I am offended by the way things are. I know I can't change the world, I can't even change another person, but I can change me. I am not obligated to participate in causing another persons suffering though my actions...or purchases. Even if it is the accepted norm.

I ran across another blog quite by accident, about a week ago or so, which summarized exactly how I have been feeling for the last few months. I have reprinted one of the posts here, in it's entirety, because it's so well written and I didn't feel a small excerpt would have the same impact. I reprint it here with the authors permission. I have also given the link below in case you want to read the rest of his blog. Most of his blog is not about resource conservation, but it is some really good stuff about life and living compassionately. I recommend it as a must read. Be warned though, it is very powerful and quite an emotional read. Here is the excerpt I promised from Weblog "Spirit Poor".


Think about the drink

I washed my hair by a mountain stream once. We were backpacking for an entire week and I stunk. So I took an impromptu bath, rinsed my hair in the stream, and watched the bubbles drift downriver.
Didn't give much thought to the hikers who would be collecting water from that same stream down below.
We live our lives with that same thoughtlessness. "I can live any way I darn well please. To hell with the rest of you."
We wouldn't say that out loud, or maybe even think it. But it's how we live.
It's what we do when we buy clothes made in third-world countries at the expense of someone else's near-slave labor.
It's what we do when we sip rich coffee grown and harvested by the sweat of people who will see almost no income for their efforts.
It's what we do when we buy products that can't be easily recycled. When we carry them home in plastic bags. When we toss away the glossy packaging and eventually the item itself with its non-degrading plastic and toxic chemicals.
It's what we do when we treat the waitress that way. Or the co-worker. Former friend. Husband. Wife. Child.
What's your trickle down? What are you dumping in the river for others to drink? What lives are impacted by your actions? Take a long, hard look downstream.

Spirit Poor: Think About the Drink


I am aware that sometimes my blog or comments probably sound like I have jumped up on a high horse and don't know how to get off. It's really not that way exactly. At least I hope not. I do have a bone dry sense of humor that is sometimes missed or misunderstood and that often gets me in trouble. I also tend to rant about things that are really just hitting me square between the eyes and I would like to change in myself. I am truly a novice when it comes to using resources correctly so I give myself challenges and put my thoughts out there in cyberspace so I have a higher standard to live up to. But in the end, I do believe I have still missed the mark a bit.

So back to my original question, "Where do I go from here?"

I have reasonably determined that if I stay mindful of what is leaving me in the form of trash, garbage, refuse, water, wasted food, hydrocarbons, methane?, recyclables--and anything else I might have forgotten in the list-- then I will be making headway. However, having given this careful thought, I don't think it is enough to just think about my waste stream. I also must think about where what I acquire comes from.

As I look around my house I find things that most likely were made by another man's poorly compensated sweat in a third world country. There are other things too that used an extreme amount of resources to produce or probably created a great amount of pollution in their manufacture. When I buy these goods, do I not perpetuate suffering or extreme pollution and also share in the blame?

There is a hidden price for cheap goods that someone else pays instead of me. I can only live cheaply because the cost to produce my goods is kept low by cheating someone else out of the right to pursue happiness. Is that fair? I have the right to pursue happiness but those in "developing" countries don't? That's arrogant and piggish and I don't want to be that way.

I plan on being more mindful of what I purchase. I am with No Impact Man on buying used but that is not always possible so here are some points I am going to consider on every new purchase. I am sure I will revisit this list later and add to it, but this is the list for now.

  1. In which country was this product made?
  2. Were the persons that manufactured or assembled it paid a decent wage, and did they work decent hours? Is there a chance they were kept locked in their place of employment for long hours with no breaks? Were they forbidden to use the restroom for long periods? Is it Fair Trade?
  3. How far did this product have to travel to reach me? How much oil was consumed in it's manufacture and shipment?
  4. What air /water /soil pollution occurred when this product was made?
  5. How many tons of resources did it actually take to manufacture any metals in the product?
  6. Did anyone die to extract the resources necessary to manufacture the product?
  7. How much plastic is in the product? If there is plastic, is it recyclable or will it end up in the landfill?
  8. Is the packaging excessive? Can the packaging be recycled or will it just end up in the landfill?
  9. How long will this product last? Can it be renewed or repaired? Is it manufactured specifically to be disposable?
  10. Do I really NEED it, or do I just WANT it?
  11. Does my use of this product create any additional pollution?
  12. When I am through with this product will it be difficult or impossible to dispose of?
  13. How long will it take for this product to decompose? Will it ever decompose?
  14. Will this product harm me, or those around me?
  15. Can this product be purchased from a local manufacturer instead of an importer?

Whoa, that's a big list, you might be saying. Well, it should be. I would call it mindful consumption rather than impulsive and it is what I should be practicing. If it takes me a few days or hours to determine if I should buy something...that's good! Stores are set up for impulse purchases. If I must run myself through a checklist before I purchase, I will be less prone to buy on impulse. And I do love to buy on impulse. It makes me downright giddy. Until I leave the store. Then it just makes me less rich.


1 comment:

dlfbelgium said...

Hi Scott,
I really like your blog.
I once made a similar list, and I was hoping that I had thought of something that you hadn't. But you seem to have covered it all!

I did come up with another aspect of consumption (its in the thesis I'm working on, I didn't actually come up with it :-) and I thought you might be interested. It's about ethical finance and investments. Basically, a normal savings account at any traditional bank invests in companies and industries that have poor environmental and social backgrounds (and even invest in war through the weapons industry, often indirectly). I don't know which options there are in the states, since mine deals with Belgium, but here there are savings or investment cooperatives, in which your "savings account" directly finances sustainable projects. Just more food for thought.

My best wishes on your thoughtful journey. I will be back to read once my thesis is done!