Thursday, March 29, 2012

Two years

I apologise for not having written much this past month. Part of me has been focusing on trying to complete my dissertation, while part of me felt that I needed a little bit of a break from writing, not because there wasn't much to write about, but because I was in need of some inspiration to maybe take my thoughts in different directions. I am glad to say that I have found such inspiration, albeit a sort of academic inspiration that can easily be erudite. I will try my best to interpret what I have been exposed to, through my discussions, to a language that is simpler.

Today marks two years since I began living trash free. The 29th of March has become more of a marker of the year than either New Year's Day or my birthday, because I feel that New Year's Day is a fairly arbitrary day in general, marking not much, and my birthday is something that doesn't necessarily signify a defining moment in my life to look back on. I am generally with friends partying or something anyway.

Here is a picture of most of my trash from year two--just a few pounds, less than six. (I am yet to quantify the recyclables in the white bag and the non-recyclables in the beige bag.)


In the first year, I was able to get by without buying almost anything. Of course I bought unpackaged second-hand things when I felt that I needed to, but on the whole, I definitely did not have the urge to buy anything new. Things changed a little bit this year, not dramatically, but substantively.

During my first year, I did not have to maintain and upkeep what I already had. The material things I had did me well. But this year, I bought a new cycle tire because one tire, which was at least six years old, was dry rotting. A different motivation, that of protection, led me to buy as a pad lock in Montreal for a locker to keep my passport and money in. The most difficult, yet most satisfying purchases of the year, however, were two pairs of soccer shoes--one for indoor soccer, one for outdoor. I had been meaning to buy some shoes for about a year now, because my old ones barely kept themselves together. That is all I bought.

Things haven't been challening on the whole, though. I must admit that at times I have been a little more lax with my behaviour, but I have not caved. Part of me feels like I have come to a fork in a path. I am at the point where I need to make another big step, another change in direction, a direction that will build off of the past. The other day, I was talking to a few engineering undergraduate students, part of the student group BLUELab, about engineering, the environment, and individual action. I want to write just a little bit about what two students asked me, and my responses to them.

Zach asked me, "Why wouldn't you live, say, carbon-neutral?" In the past, I had told people that the lens under which we think about our actions isn't necessarily that important; power dynamics and violence present themselves under each lens, whether it is oppressive working conditions or polluting someone's drinking water. Furthermore, since everything is inherently connected, one can follow the philosophical and moral paths that are created by an inquiry into this power dynamic and violence. While saying exactly this to Zach, I realised that maybe that isn't neccesarily the case, and that different lenses allow different insignts into how much this culture, and I, have to change. Because even though I have been living trash-free, I have still hopped into a car at times, and I have still taken a few flights to get to conferences, all of which have spewed greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. I live in Michigan, a state that is heavily reliant on coal for its electricity, and I have bought food that has been transported some distance. There is room for continual change.

On a very different note, Adam challenged me by saying that to him, living trash-free seems not that impactful, and that more systemic changes are needed. I have written about these issues of individual action in the face of large problems at length, and I have spoken about it elsewhere. But I take Adam's comment very seriously, because it reminds me about the importance of the public nature of the intimate and personal changes that need to be instantiated. Culture doesn't change if we don't. But we cannot be satisfied with "doing our part" by living off-the-grid, by living trash-free, by being advocates for peace in our own lives. Our lives must unfold on others around us.

Year three begins, and I am hoping to challenge myself in different ways.

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