Probably the biggest obstacle that people face when trying to address environmental issues, and sustainability in general, is the sheer magnitude of the problems. We have billions of people, trillions of dollars and countless quantities of time and energy that are invested in the status quo and the continuance of unsustainability. The powers of those people and corporations are much greater than you as an individual; a sense of hopelessness is not surprising. Furthermore, the timescales over which the issues have developed, and over which they may be resolved, are enormous compared to the length of human lives. It may take several decades for any change to be realised, culturally and ecologically. This is also bound to generate a sense of hopelessness. At the same time, there is a limit to our comprehension of our actions - we may not know how harmful the effects of what we are doing are. But also, we do things in the present that we know are bad, for our health, and for the health of ecosystems in the future. We have a tendency to say, "I'll deal with it later," or, "I know this is bad (for me or for the environment). Whatever." Eating unhealthily is a wonderful example of this. Access and availability of good food aside, many people know that such eating is bad for them, in general, yet satisfaction now supersedes degraded health later - diabetes, cancer, obesity, etc. Maybe we don't want those future ill effects to affect us, but out of habit we accept the ill effects and live in a state of fear knowing that the day will come that bad diagnoses loom.
It is really hard to imagine what the future is going to be like - Will our efforts pay off? Who will be the next President? When will the next oil spill happen? Which will be the next fish species to go extinct because of overfishing? How might we be able to deal with the fear of living in such a state, knowing that we are degrading what it is that sustains us, but are so invested in the way it is that we kick the stone down the road? Rather than think and worry about the future, we can all make decisions here and now such that tomorrow will be a good day. We all want to live in a world in which what we cherish is alive, healthy and sustained. To live in that world, we must act in such a way that we cherish, respect and sustain now, today. It is not complicated. If I respect the tree or the river today, it will be healthy and full of life and love tomorrow. If I respect and cherish my relationship with my friends and family today, those relationships will grow stronger and more resilient; tomorrow those people will still love me, and I will still love them. I do not have to live in the fear of a grudge or a toxic conversation. Now is easier to comprehend and experience and think about. Acting well now will save us much trouble tomorrow.
On the recommendation of several readers, I have decided to put up a condensed list of recommendations on how to become aware and reduce your own trash and waste. If you have figured something out that I haven't posted, please let me know and I'll add it.
- Most general trash probably comes from food packaging
- Think about the easy cuts - napkins, paper towels, bags and plastics
- Think about everything that has gone on in making what you have already. Think of what is embodied.
- Avoid buying new things - is what you have enough for what you need?
- Buy what you need or want in bulk
- Simplify your needs. This will save you money, too.
- Carry a bag
- Be open with others about what you are doing, and explain yourself. Be confident about it.
- Observe what you throw away
- Observe what other people throw away
- Struggle with challenges
- Be responsible for your actions
- Here is a little list of things you can do, courtesy of the lovely Adrianna. "This week of exams, I’ve tried to make a conscious effort in conservation and lessening paper waste. By tweaking some habits in particular, I found them to also be surprisingly convenient! By bringing a ceramic coffee mug with me to the library, I found that my coffee stayed warmer for a longer period of time (or colder, for iced coffee and cold beverages), as ceramic insulates a beverage better than water, while retaining the temperature. Some baristas reward your green efforts and may even give you a discount. Additionally, I have been refilling my water bottles at drinking fountains. They use purified water, and essentially provide the same quality. Also, I bought Tupperware this week, so that I could bring nonperishable snacks along while I study, and then wash and reuse them once I was home. While cleaning out your notebooks and folders, remember to recycle! Another interesting tip, if any of you are plant lovers, place them on the counter in the bathroom while you shower, they absorb the water vapor, which really serves no purpose. You are therefore using energy and resources efficiently! Happy Spring!"