Sunday, August 24, 2008

What you can do

There's not much more to be said about what you can do to reduce your contribution to our collection of greenhouse gases. Not using electricity when you don't need it, eating local, eating organic, reduce, reuse, and recycle, etc etc. You can find all of these hints and more at sites like the National Geographic's Green Guide, so there's not much of a point in rehashing what's already out there.

But let's not kid ourselves: even the most eco-sensitive and frugal in the First World use a LOT, and we waste a lot. Just yesterday I bought almost 100 euros' worth of clothing--to be fair, a lot of my clothes were looking a bit ratty and I did set aside that money for the express purpose of clothes shopping. Even though my clothes were still serviceable, many of them looked worn and it was starting to get to the point where I looked a lot worse off than I am (maybe I'm a lot worse off than I think?). Still, if pressed, I'd have to say that no, I didn't really need new clothes.

I don't have a functional cell phone, something that most of us think is a necessity--my cell phone is basically a clock, because I still haven't managed to buy myself a nice watch yet. Most people today would rank Internet connection and a computer as necessary. They would probably also put down a washer/dryer system, a microwave oven, and cable TV as necessities, too--something that always baffled me when I volunteered to sign people up for food stamps was that the government apparently did not consider basic cable a frivolous expenditure, but a gym membership was. Other necessities-that-aren't include makeup, pets, any sort of entertainment expense (including books!), and most food.

To be absolutely clear: of course there are things you can do to minimize your impact on the environment, but you can't get away from the fact that if you're putting your organically-grown produce in a plastic bag of course you're using more resources than someone who puts his organically-grown produce in a fifteen-year-old canvas bag. If you make a phone call from a cell phone, of course you're going to be using more resources than waiting to see the person and tell them what's soooo vital in person (seriously, how many cell phone calls are actually of the "OMG I HAVE TO TELL YOU THIS OR ELSE SOMEONE DIES!" nature?).

In the Western world, we have a lot of resources to exploit, be they natural or man-made (which are dependent on natural resources), and most of us don't think about how we use them. It's not that we should feel guilty about using them--after all, what's the point of having resources if you don't use them?--but we should be more aware of how much we use and how we use them.

Awareness is, I think, 90% of the environmentalist's battle. Being aware of how much trash you generate, how much plastic is used, what you can reuse (even if you don't think you can), where you can reduce (and there is always more) requires reaching beyond your current comfort levels and exploring just how low you can go.

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