“Sometimes you have to act as if acting will make a difference, even when you can’t prove that it will.” (Michael Pollen, “Why Bother?” New York Times, April 20, 2008).
Do you ever feel like there’s not much point in trying to live in an environmentally responsible way, given the enormity of the problems the world faces and the billions of people who don’t seem to care?
And do you get confused by conflicting opinions on whether you should buy an energy-efficient fridge now to replace your still working energy-guzzler or wait until the old monster has died? (If anybody knows the answer this question, please let me know.)
Does trying to figure out if locally grown but not organic produce is better than imported organic produce make you want to throw up your hands in despair, grab a bag of additive-laden cookies, and collapse in front of the TV?
Even I, who was steeped from a very young age in the belief that if I add my little effort to your little effort, then eventually we can change the world, have days when I feel like this.
I mentioned somewhere on this blog that my husband and I have tried to live in an environmentally responsible way for much longer than it’s been trendy (we’re not very trendy people)—not because we were better than anyone else, but because during our ridiculous number of years at university, we were more aware of the issues than people in the real world. Plus it was cheaper and we were broke.
Some people thought we were freaks (in fact, some members of my family still call me a freak. Hi, Mike! Love you!). But we didn’t much care. We tried to live in a way that felt right to us.
My mom has a list posted in her cupboard that I wrote for her about 20 years ago on things she could do to have less impact on the environment. I was reading it the other day and I realized that some of the things that people used to think were weird or downright wrong, like putting your purchases in your own bag instead of a plastic one, are now mainstream.
I know people who don’t believe that global warming is caused by humans. They say it’s a natural fluctuation. That may be. But even if it is, it’s not a valid reason for not trying to live in a less harmful way. We’ve been aware of environmental degradation since long before global warming became a household concept. Smog alert days, PCBs in the breast milk of women in the Arctic, diminishing resources, overflowing garbage dumps, constant exposure to all sorts of cancer-causing agents—these issues have been around for decades.
To me, it’s not about being on a bandwagon or trying to save the world by myself. It’s about living in a way that’s in sync with my values. I make some choices, like not coloring my rapidly graying hair (which is still in desperate need of a cut—obviously the progress I made during “Enough procrastination, already!” month is wearing off), based on environmental concerns. Other people make other choices. A lot do less than I do and a lot do much, much more.
My efforts alone are not going to save the polar bears or the rainforests. But if I do what I can and you do what you can and my neighbor does what she can and your uncle does what he can, well then, this poor earth—and our descendents—will be better off than if we all did nothing.