Do not be discouraged by ‘how bad things have gotten’, by ‘how climate change is too far along to stop’ or by ‘there’s no way I can make a difference on my own’. Do not get distracted either by romantic corporate myths promising that this very real environmental crisis will vanish and your peace of mind return if you book this contract, buy this car, watch this movie, listen to this song or buy this dress. I don’t say this to demean your intelligence, I say this because I myself have been sporting the same blindfold for years. And so have my parents and their parents and their grandparents. We were born into a society sick with consumption. We buy and consume things to feel good, and we’ve done this now for a very long time. It’s a fact. A purchase is now a stronger incentive for joy than a real hug from a friend, a home cooked meal or a walk in the forest on a sunny day. It’s a deeply entrenched, subconscious pattern that’s very hard to break out of. But as we are beginning to feel, the very cultural vehicle promoting this profound buying impulse, our western political and economic system, is presently running out of steam. Capitalist democracies all over the world are now faltering because people have lost faith in the democratic process. They have lost faith because corporate lobbying is so powerful within government structures now that the public’s basic human needs and rights are literally being trumped by profit driven margins. This has to stop.
But let me start with the beginning, let me put my money where my mouth is and tell you how, for the past 6 months, my own family has struggled to actively change our consumption habits and reduce our waste and carbon footprint. Because in my opinion that’s where real change begins. You need to make it very personal. You need to start at home and step out of your comfort zone, figure out how to compost, reuse and recycle instead of continuously throwing things out, research how buying local reduces carbon emissions significantly, have your own serious epiphany about cutting up an old beach towel and washing and reusing those sturdy rags to clean your windows and your kitchen counters instead of using roll after roll of paper towels, buy local, buy organic, avoid packaged foods, reduce your meat consumption… and the list goes on and on. The point is, there is so much you can do on your own. And it all starts there. It has to. Because once you realize you can change, no matter how difficult it is at first, and that you can take action in your own home, it becomes easier to imagine how effective an entire community deciding to collectively change can be and how it can ultimately have an immense political and social impact for the better.
The biggest lesson I learned once this waste reduction process started for our family was that we really don’t need much to be truly happy. I know people say that all the time but the best things in life truly are free. And if you have a roof over your head, food on your table, love in your life and your health? You’re better off than most. You’re rich with the best that life has to offer. A mother grizzly bear nursing her young cubs deep inside a den in the dead of winter in the Yukon knows this too, and so do thousands of spawning salmon every fall, who fight their way up stream for weeks in British Columbia only to die once they’ve finally reached their breeding ground and fertilized their eggs. Life is everything. Fighting to stay alive, to live and to love, is in my opinion the very meaning of life. And to do it with respect for one another, from species to species, intermingling respectfully with all life on earth. This. This I believe is also part of the key, part of our purpose here on this planet. But if you think that money will buy you that kind of harmony? If you think money will buy you clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and make pollution disappear then think again. Because continuously dumping plastic waste into our oceans the way we have been? Just because ‘oh well, shit happens’? Will lead to exactly that. We’ll wake up one morning and walk out into the world and see shit everywhere. It’ll stink up our nice cars, sting our eyes and dry up our hearts.
My husband and I started arguing a lot while implementing these big changes at home. It’s genuinely affected our marriage. We got uncomfortable and initially lost our bearings because it takes a lot of effort to figure out: how to stop using so much plastic, how to reduce the amount of water we use in a day, how to make truly biodegradable cleaning products at home, how to buy local instead of imported produce, how to buy organic, how to stop eating meat, how to drive electric, how to compost, how to stop using so much paper, how and where to buy amazing used clothes and goods instead of always buying new ones…and once you start, you can’t stop. There are so many ways to be more responsible as a human being on this planet. But it takes its toll. Especially in the beginning and especially when you’re raising very young children as well. Toddlers alone will put a marriage to the test. Try implementing all of the above changes at the same time.
I use the word ‘uncomfortable’ to describe this arduous process because it’s 100% normal to suddenly feel overwhelmed about literally changing everything about the way you behave and function in your own home. It’s a monumental task. You may even feel the added stress of being judged or misunderstood by concerned friends and family who don’t at first understand why these massive shifts are happening for you. Because even though everyone knows it in their guts, that the Earth is dying, very few of us are truly willing to take action, to change, to take responsibility for what we’ve collectively done. While on the sidelines, the great majority stands idly by, still undecided, skeptical and understandably afraid.
This brings me to one particular night a few months ago when my husband and I were still in the thick of it: changing the way we ate, cleaned, drove around, drank, washed and purchased anything. We debated everything. We’ve gotten into more fights in the past few months than we have in our entire 9 years together. Debating why this or that change was truly necessary in our routine, could we afford it, what was it going to teach our kids… the tension between him and I progressively and unexpectedly rising because there was something fundamentally different about our individual understanding of the situation. It was becoming clear that the urgency I personally felt did not motivate my husband in the same way. The stakes were not as high in his mind as they were in mine. I looked at my husband in the middle of this huge blow out in the kitchen one night and I said:
‘Don’t you get it? We’re literally shitting where we eat’.
But he didn’t get it. And he was mad at me because I was also saying he should be thinking bigger than just our family. I understood very well that in his mind, he was making these big changes ‘for our children’ so that ‘they would have a better future’. My argument was that he needed to think bigger than that. Much bigger. He not only needed to think about our children. He needed to think about all children. He needed to think about the bear cubs and the salmon and the neighbor’s kids and the kids in Yemen and Kenya and Japan and the maple tree sapling struggling under the ice just outside our front door. I was trying to get through to him that we’re all interconnected. I stood there that night, fists tightly wound against our kitchen counter, desperately trying to explain the unexplainable: the beautiful mystery that is all of Life on Earth.
‘But why are you so angry?!’ he kept saying.
‘Because we’re destroying our world’ I finally replied, seething.
And then he said:
‘But it’s not your responsibility to save our world’.
And then I said it:
‘Yes. Yes, it is my responsibility.’
And there it was. The kind of pressure, in my humble opinion, that we’re now under to face this crisis head on. The kind of pressure that leads a 39-year-old wife and mother of two to stand passionately in her kitchen during a fight with her husband and say those words. Words filled with hope and belonging:
‘Yes. Yes, it is my responsibility.’
Because we have to take responsibility. We have to do it for ourselves, for our children and for every living organism on this planet. It is our duty, each and every one of us. We have to respond with action right now. That’s how it feels to watch the world burn and sea levels rise and famine strike entire nations. That’s how it feels to watch bee populations be disseminated by pesticides and coral reefs die out quietly below the surface of our apathy. Each and every one of us has a crucial responsibility and a personal part to play right now in this crisis we’ve created together. None of us can do this alone. But we have to start somewhere. We have to start in our own homes and in our communities. Because all of us collectively have a very powerful motive not to shit where we eat. I know it’s rude of me to say but it’s true. Not only do we shit where we eat by polluting our world the way we do but we shit where the bird nests and the fox burrows. And it has to stop. Now.
The Fantastic Fox photograph above was taken by Stefan Busher. I do not have the rights to use this image but sincerely hope Mister Busher will allow it to remain here. It is astoundingly beautiful.