Within the next two weeks I intend to use up, burn, consume, what is likely my second, or perhaps third, tank of gasoline this year.
Whoa! What kind of solidarity action is that?
Please let me reassure you … this is not some diabolical plot I’m undertaking, after so enthusiastically supporting the 1252 arrestees and many thousands (perhaps millions) of their friends, in an effort to prove I can be as shamefacedly two-faced as all those who like to pretend they’re something they’re not. It’s just circumstantial. Really. Just a strange coincidence.
My life normally, and for the past 20+ years, has consisted of uncompromising, unflinching loyalty to live gently on this most beautiful and magical earth. It’s not just something I preach, it’s something I really really do because I really really love this incredible place. I’ve made certain personal sacrifices, many of them quite significant.
Twenty some odd years ago I began to give up the consumption of animal products – first (22 years ago), as a vegetarian and then (11 years ago) as a vegan. That was, in some ways, very difficult. No more cheese, no more pizzas! No more salmon, decidedly the yummiest of all the sentient beings. In other ways it was a piece of cake. Literally. Everything vegan tastes better. Maybe because it’s really all about spices, and maybe because every mouthful doesn’t comprise a pound of guilty flesh. Really. If it used to have a mother, I don’t feel good about eating it, no matter how hard I try. I feel healthier – physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually – now that I’m vegan. Plus, eating a plant based diet means I’ve reduced my carbon foodprint by at least a ton a year (http://planetgreen.discovery.com/food-health/vegetarian-diet-carbon-footprint.html).
There were lots of things I started doing, 20+ years ago, that weren’t much of a sacrifice at all. The mantra, at the time, as the whole hippie Earth Day movement was being reborn, was “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” I did all that. I started lugging a mug. I stopped using paper towels (really, how ridiculously unnecessary are those now that we no longer scrub laundry at the river on the rocks). When I do have to buy paper products, I look for hemp or kenaf alternatives, or I buy recycled (making sure it's 100% post consumer recycled because otherwise they’re made from the scraps off the sawmill floor). At university I’d pick stacks of paper out of the recycle bins at the computer lab for note-taking during classes, and I’d get books from the library rather than buy them (thankfully, I was studying English Literature so this was actually possible … it saved me a ton of money, too). I stopped putting those horrible bleached pads and tampons near my precious girl parts (whoever managed to get girls to stick those things in themselves was a freaking maniacal genius) and cut up old t-shirts and towels into squares instead.
I wear my clothes until they’re threadbare, and I don’t have a huge variety of them. Plus they’re all (pretty much, except some radical t-shirts) second hand from thrift shops or hand-me-downs from friends of friends. I don’t colour or bleach or use chemically stuff on my hair (never have).
I buy grains and rice and flour and stuff in bulk, rinsing out plastic bags so I can take them back and refill them again and again. And I write the bin numbers on a piece of paper rather than having to throw away all those silly wire twist tabs that don’t fit any recyclable criteria. I invest in organic, rather than chemicalized and corporate food products, even though I'm never sure my budget will allow it. But somehow, methinks, the earth’s magical energy rewards those of us who truly care for her because, after all these years of insisting on right livelihood and spending more than I have to on non-death food items, I’m still not homeless or living in complete despair.
It was a big sacrifice to sell my funky little car way back in 1991, that I’d owned since I was 18 and purchased slightly used (some Edmonton Eskimo football player had it for a while … and put a small cigarette (or something) burn in the ceiling) off the lot. I said goodbye to the luxurious freedom of being able to go wherever I want, whenever I want. On the plus side I learned to slow down a bit, I appreciate time on the bus for reading or just relaxing, and I’m much healthier as a cyclist. Plus, I’ve saved a ton of money. I don’t go as far from home nearly as often as I used to but, as with anything we don’t have immediate and constant access too, I’ve learned to really appreciate those rare opportunities when a car presents itself. My car share membership means never having to say “I’m completely stranded” and, although I do feel some guilt when I’m doggie/house minding and I’m able to enjoy using the family car (like now and for the next two weeks), I remind myself it’s only my second (or third) tank of gas this year. If that’s my greatest environmental crime, I think I can live with myself.
I’m not writing this, now, because I tout myself as some kind of earth hero or anything like that, I’m writing it because it amazes me how easy and rewarding it is to simply put one’s mind to caring for the earth, and begin to walk the road, and how few people actually do it. Is that why I’m writing it? I don’t know. Maybe I just feel guilty that I'm enjoying a car. I don’t want to be one of those “holier than thou” sorts, but on the other hand, I find it incredible that people still dry their hands on paper towels in public bathrooms (hands dry rather quickly, especially if there’s a skirt or some jeans to assist), or how many I see carrying paper coffee mugs (and these days with plastic lids and fancy little holders).
Let me reassure you that I didn’t start walking this earth-friendly path 20+ years ago because it was trendy and cool, though it was and is. I was inspired by knowledge. For one, a respected college professor at the time (the subject was ecology) told us about a conference he’d recently attended. It was full of all kinds of scientists, he said, not the hippie types (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but white shirt and tie types, who had studied the available facts and determined that if we humans don’t significantly alter the way we live here on the earth, chances are good we’re not going to have that option available to us anymore. If I remember correctly those suits said we had twenty years to change, or we’d be out of here in 50. That was 22 years ago.
It’s 22 years since my little brain absorbed that information, 22 years of really persistent effort on my part to make a difference. Lots more people have joined the rally. We’re watching many, more and more each year it seems, suffering devastating environmental storms and drought and uncertainty. It’s not that the earth is evil, I believe she’s just trying to balance all this whacky energy in the best way she knows how. It seems so unfair that the greed of a few influences the fate of so many, but that's not the earth's fault.
Last year, when all those people flew in airplanes to Copenhagen to try and encourage governments to legislate for change, there were loud cries of “nothing’s being resolved” emanating from the conference and I thought …. what more can I possibly do, personally, to make a difference? One thing I thought of, thanks to a yoga friend, was coffee. I didn’t drink a lot of it, but I drank some and that made me an oppressor, fair trade and organic though it was. Coffee depletes the soil, and it’s grown by people who really ought to be growing food rather than some unnecessary luxurious export crop. Plus, the extent of the coffee addiction is truly scary. What will happen when all those millions of people are forced to face a single day without their morning fix? Absolute and utter chaos, no doubt. I don't want to be a part of that. What if, I thought, all the activists in Copenhagen made a pact to give up coffee? I don't know that they did but it’s been a year for me, and I feel fine.
Next up - my fair trade and organic chocolate (irregular though it is) addiction. Meanwhile, I’m working on my second (or third) tank of gas this year …. and trying to enjoy it. Or at least not feel too bad about it.