Everyone can turn a deeper shade of green

This blog is dedicated to all those looking to deepen their green--whether you are making a commitment to a greener lifestyle and need help taking the first steps or whether you're already a practicing tree hugger who is looking for practical advice on what steps to take next. Over the years, I've heard all the good intentions and all the excuses. I've also seen my fellow environmentalists sabotage the good intentions of others. I am making a commitment to you, dear reader, wherever you fall on the spectrum, to help you take the next steps to fulfilling your commitment to the earth, to your health, and to your well-being. Stay tuned for articles and interviews.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

It’s the end of the world as we know it….or is it?

Either way, I feel fine today. I’m not even worried about whether or not I have enough milk, bread, or toilet paper.

Some people talk about the end of the Mayan B’aqtun (a calendrical cycle) with enormous positivity. It’s about “humanity’s rebirth” or a “global shift in awareness, a transformation of consciousness such that the world may actually end as we know it on the psychic level (emphasis added).”  I sure hope the optimists are right. (And if you’re curious, cosmic shift or not, Brad Morris has some thoughtful queries that may bring you closer to a sense of unity with humanity even if the world is still turning on 12/22.)

The idea that the world is coming to an end is not entirely out of the question, whether or not we survive 12/21/12. It’s us—consumer citizens of the world, united in a quest for more stuff—who will bring about the demise of our planet. Richard Wilk’s article in the Huffington Post today asks really uncomfortable questions about our buying habits and is a cogent argument for why something needs to shift. [Full disclosure—Rick was my dissertation adviser and I think he’s nothing short of brilliant. He’s also a scholar on the contemporary Maya and sustainability.]

Rick points out that the Christmas holidays are a “good time to think about the connection between the innocent pleasures of giving gifts, the larger issues of where those gifts came from, and the decidedly less pleasant question of what effects this annual orgy of consumerism has on the planet as a whole.”  The uncomfortable truth that is coming out of the social sciences is that “green lifestyles” willnot be enough to halt climate change. The roots of the problem are deeply social and are rooted in the notions of development and progress. 

I used to have students in one of my classes read an article by Rick where he makes the seemingly outrageous claim that we should not be critical of developing nations for wanting what we have and should not count on emissions caps and green factories to slow or stop global warming. This argument blew their minds. I confessed to them my own discomfort at seeing my peers in Siberian villages living in wooden homes with broken porches who live primarily on potatoes from their parents’ gardens working so hard to get a satellite dish. And I asked them, “What do you like to do when you get home?” “Watch TV and relax” was a common answer. “So why shouldn’t a 20-something who lives in a run down duplex in Siberia or in a slum in Sao Paolo be able to come home at the end of a long day at work and be able to do the same—watch whatever they like?” When money is tight, do we always get our oil changes on time instead of going to the movies with friends? Do we spend money on energy efficiency improvements on our homes before decorating the inside? My point is that it’s easy to point to someone else and find ways that they can fix the problem to alleviate our own sense of responsibility.

Rick makes the very uncomfortable statement that the “high consuming class” does bear a greater responsibility, not simply because of the disproportionate carbon footprint of jet setting between multiple homes, lavish vacations, and luxury items like yachts. If we all aspire to this lifestyle and consume what is in reach to achieve it in the name of “progress” the apocalypse may indeed be upon us. The question Rick asks towards the end of the article may make you squirm, but here it is: “The real issue of sustainability is whether we can really sustain the bare injustice of a planet where a lucky minority live in luxury while the others can only watch?”

So, I hope the end-of-the world-optimists are right. With sunrise on 12/22 the days will start getting longer. If you don’t feel the cosmic shift, fake it. Awaken from this darkest night of the year with new eyes and a new perspective. Confront those most challenging questions and get involved. Keep doing what you are doing to deepen your green on an individual basis, but also find ways to raise your voice to policy makers because that is where our voices get stronger.

Cherish the simple pleasures this holiday season. Be happy, healthy, and at peace.

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