This summer is a scorcher and it’s not just isolated to my little corner of New England, which has seen more than it’s fair share of hazy, hot and humid days punctuated by downpours so intense the front lawn turns into a temporary moat. Across America, across the globe, the temperatures have grown unbearable. Unless you have access to air conditioning, the world feels outright inhospitable.
This weather is remarkable but it shouldn’t just be something to discuss casually in the checkout line at the supermarket or around the water cooler at the office. The droughts, wildfires and excessive heat waves are a call to action; a rallying cry that we need to do something, and quickly, to preserve our environment so that it can sustain us and our future generations just as it has our past generations. Banking on a future without undertaking substantial change is a gamble that’s proving more and more foolhardy. The earth cannot sustain the current model and yet we persist with our mindset of convenience over conservation and economy over ecology.
Pope Francis accurately labeled us the throwaway culture - prioritizing our immediate wants over the needs of others to the lasting detriment of others. I am deserving of this label as is most of my fellow humans within industrialized society. We consume at an alarming rate and for naught more than ease and image. We view consumption not for the sake of survival but as a measure of self-worth. The more we can afford to consume, the higher our worth or so it goes. Very few people need 3 or more pairs of jeans, to heat and cool a 2500 square foot house or to upgrade a cellphone yearly. But need very rarely enters the equation these days. We are so focused on our exteriors, on what the world sees when it looks at us, that we have tossed restraint to the wind. We want what is newest, shiniest and most-attention-seeking so that we feel validated. We want to be someone worth noticing.
And so our economic models have followed suit, constantly putting forth new trends and upgraded models that we, the consumer, are told we must possess. And the cycle of wastefulness perpetuates to the point where we are today, on the brink of environmental collapse. Our planet cannot sustain exponential growth. Resources are finite. And when (not if) we reach those limits, I only pray that I an those I love are not around to witness the fallout.
Change starts small. It starts with individuals. It starts with me. It starts with you. Only when the voice of the people bubbles up to the level of local, state and national government does change become institutionalized and the effects more widespread. We are not there yet. Not enough individuals believe that they play a role in shaping the world. Many are of the attitude that if others are doing something, it must be ok that they do it too. Or perhaps they want to make a change but think that the impact of their efforts weighed against the cumulative effects of everyone who maintains the status quo will amount to nothing. There is a Chinese proverb: “Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.” Change starts small and gains momentum. Where one can change, many can change. And where many change, we will begin to see impact.
I recently stood on the shore of my favorite beach and as the waves broke against my ankles, hundreds of pieces of plastic washed in and out around my feet. The temperatures inland were well over 90 degrees. And all around me families unpacked picnics of foods wrapped in plastic, which often blew away into the sea. My kids played nearby, running in and out of the surf with joyfulness. But I felt such a pang of anxiety that perhaps this experience wouldn’t be here for their children the way it has always been here for past generations. What a heartbreaking prospect.
We all need to make some very drastic changes starting today. We will likely have to sacrifice the convenience of unsustainable practices for longterm betterment. A series of small changes paves the way for larger changes. Willingness to go first and set the example also shows others that change is doable and worthwhile. In that spirit, I am committing to the following earth-prioritizing and sustainability-focused changes:
- No new clothes for the next 12 months. I have enough in my closet to probably last me three years but I’m starting with a year since I am so used to retail therapy and keeping up with seasonal trends. I will diligently care for my clothing to improve it’s longevity. I will pursue alternative means to relieve stress and increase self-esteem.
- We will limit consumption of food and food products packaged in plastic. I will make bread, cookies, granola bars, etc. from scratch.
- We will use only reusable food and beverage storage at home and for school/work lunches.
- We will eat lower down the food chain. Less meat from larger animals. More beans. More veg.
- We will better adhere to seasonal eating. Just because you can get an apple in New England in summer doesn’t mean you should.
- No more single purpose trips in the car. Errands will be condensed into one, multi-stop trip.
- No new makeup until I finish EVERY thing I have currently. Then I will buy a sustainable, earth-friendly brand.
- Walk and bike ride, when possible. We live close to the center of town. There’s no good excuse most days to drive to school, the library, the grocery store or the pool. Plus, using the power of your own body is great exercise.
- If we lose or ruin something, we will not replace it. We will learn to live with less.
- Gifts will be handmade, experiences or necessities. We will not buy what we or others do not need.
These are small potatoes. The world needs so much more than the cumulative effects of these 10 actions. But if another person also followed these? Or an entire neighborhood? Or a town? Imagine the impact. Change starts small, with as little as a few followers. But with the right messaging and support, look at what could grow.