Confessions of an Earth Day Defector

I consider myself Earthday photoa novice environmentalist with a dream of one day holding the title of hard core green goddess, though after a long hard look at myself, I found some, let’s say, mis-alignments and inconsistencies that have been a wee bit hard to admit. These inconsistencies have sat me in a place of guilt and shame at times. I have a strong vision of a world, or community for that matter, where the water is clean, the air is fresh, the food is real and the land is lush. Reality shows that pollution is common, food is modified, concrete and cartoon grass is all around us and I’ve come across lakes, ponds and rivers that carry the un-posted sign of “enter at your own risk”. The drought in California has increased the pressure I put on myself to save the world through recycling.

I feel the need to call myself out on my own personal hypocrisy because I know that there are others out there like me — well-intentioned, conscientious people who want to make a real difference in this world but find themselves faced day after day with the common convenience of life made disposable. George Carlin built a whole hilarious act around our fear of plastic. I laughed at the image of myself going on plastic patrol throughout my daily interactions with people. I even started a petition to get plastic bags banned from our local super markets. I thought this undertaking would be easy given the fact that I have a large network of tree hugging friends who only had to click on a “sign here” button through their facebook page. Sadly I only got 20 people to sign up. It was the beginning of a year long journey of introspection on my own “talk the talk” but not so sure if I was truly walking the walk. I discovered that I am absolutely crawling the crawl and that is an ok place to be in the middle of what I know is a life long journey.

A profound understanding of the importance of baby, yet necessary, steps when approaching any expression of values has allowed me to maintain my optimism in a world that seems to be crumbling before me. Trying to jump in full force with both feet, dragging others into the well with me has not only led me to stress, but has uncovered hidden judgement, above said guilt and universal shame each time I see someone double cupping their coffee or running their car motor for hours in the shopping center parking lot; or worse when I forget my reusable bags (sacrilege). It can be pretty overwhelming when you truly dissect all of the harmful ways we treat the earth each day. We have beautifully structured everything in our lives to offer us the most conveniences in order to work more and provide a better life for our families; however the means in which we do so has created an atmosphere that will end up suffocating us and therefore negating the very “Better” life in which we have worked so hard to achieve.

I always marvel at the fact that we humans are as healthy as we are, considering the lifestyle we lead. Car emissions, cleaning chemicals, GMO foods, lawn treatments, bug repellants, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, plastics plastics and more plastics, and chemical medications. This list does not even scratch the surface. The things we do as individuals are enough to make me start coughing right now, not to mention what we do as businesses, corporations and nations. The solution, or at least the clearing at which we can come to terms with what is individually possible, is to inspire the choir and raise our game as well as forgive ourselves when we do fall short. It is on us as vocalists of this choir because I have found that trying to preach to someone who has dismissed climate change or are passive on the impact we have on the environment seems to create more resistance and back lash. That backlash ends up undermining the very cause in which we are all participating in. So that said, note to all those haters, deniers and resisters this is not the article for you. As Whoopi Goldberg said in her southern character drawl “walk away walk away!”

During my brief years working in education, I ran the environmental club. My focus was on educating the children and staff on The 4 R’s, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose (or Compost) and Recycle. I raised money to rid the cafeteria of styrofoam plates and encouraged students to bring their own utensils. I also provided money to convert most of the highly toxic cleaning chemicals into ones that would instead support brain function and therefore help students learn better. I would then end the year with a big earth day celebration consisting of songs and events that connected people to nature and the power of the great outdoors. Great great great, I patted myself on the back thinking that I had started a revolution in this small, affluent Connecticut town. Then came the unexpected backlash from a senior staff member who secretly did not approve of all this ‘environment propaganda’. During a school vacation the bio-degradable products suddenly stopped being ordered, the recycling was directed to be thrown out and support for ongoing projects went on deaf ears. It was as if the very excitement and motivation I had towards the progress being made was the very fuel that spurred her agitation.

This woman was not evil or bad and in fact I liked her very much. She was a dedicated teacher and I saw the sincere effort she made to accept my ideas; however there was something fundamental about this issue that compelled her to push back. I found this to be so baffling and extremely fascinating since I also saw this being played out politically in the news each day. I call it the play entitled “The Criers and the Deniers” and now I had a direct experience (guess which part I played). Discouragement entered my door and I desperately wanted to find work in a place where my moral issues matched the business’ bottom line. I logically moved into the health food industry. “Perfect”, I thought since health and well-being was for sale, naturally the environment would be woven into fabric of the field itself. Surprisingly, my efforts once again faced resistance, not nearly as much as before, but more than I ever would have anticipated. Boxes and boxes of products delivered with foam peanuts, multiple varieties of items wrapped within layers and layers of plastic packaging, enormous amounts of food and supplements thrown into the trash, harsh cleaning chemicals and many other daily happenings that clearly would not make the average person bat an eye, yet would undeniably make a sensitive person like me shudder. A step up from business as usual though still compelling enough to force me to ask the questions, “Are we giving this the priority it deserves?” and “What is fundamentally driving this complacency?”
From my perspective, it is a no brainer. We live on earth. Earth provides trees, plants, animals, water and oxygen. We need trees and oxygen to breath. We need plants and animals to grow and we need water to survive. Protect the earth and we protect ourselves. Logical right? I understood the why at the school; that was not their focus; the job is academic education not healthy planet education; a means to an end; a place to socialize; a way to pay the bills etc. I also understand why oil companies, Monsanto and cattle farmers don’t care, but what is keeping the average citizens from doing something? What is keeping those who profess to be the change from living up to this promise? Many of us are under the illusion that if we are merely recycling then we are solving the problem, though no one posted the memo that the energy it takes to recycle is tremendous, for start just think about the gas it takes to power the trucks. Those blue cans will hardly create a paradigm shift in the consciousness nor would it qualify to enlighten the fresh young teenage employees and college graduates who would soon be setting off to make their mark in the world.

Discouragement, discouragement, and more discouragement. Money? Greed? Fear? Convenience? There I was again asking the why and coming up against some very ugly truths that may answer my query best. I decided the only way to peace was to start to acknowledge and address these matters within myself to see if it rings true in my own participation in the mess. I struggle with this reality each and every day over a cup of coffee or shall I say as I reach for my cup of coffee from the company Keurig machine. The dreaded Keurig is today’s Green nightmare in the same way that the SUV was yesterday’s. While I do my best to buy the bio-degradable cups I find some days the crippling ghost of convenience prevents me from doing so, or the ugly reality of greed keeps me from passing on the free temptation at the bank or doctor’s office. The voice of fear echoes to me “If the sky were raining dollar bills I would have no problem buying everything organic, grass fed, local, glass container, bamboo packaging and beaver butt free”. Multiply my inner ignorance by the billions of people on the planet and bingo you have a landfill overflowing with cafeteria utensils and the Gulf of Mexico coated with oil. Al Gore coined the term an “inconvenient truth” and I’m going to amend it to an “Inconvenient excuse”. It is very real for me to take pause since I live paycheck to paycheck, am overwhelmed by life and weighed down by pain and depression. So we convince ourselves so powerfully that we can’t afford it and it doesn’t really matter therefore making self-fulfilling magic become true.

Even those who do have the finances, time and health make these excuses.  They all are well intentioned, politically active citizens who diligently sign petitions to strengthen the EPA, stop the drilling for oil, expose the dangerous truth behind fracking and educate people on how factory farms created anti-biotic resistant super bugs. As proactive as they are politically, time and time again they forget to apply this same passion at the supermarket, department store and restaurants, home and workplace. A gap we share in wanting a movement to happen and putting our money where our mouth is. Yes government needs to be the voice for the vulnerable and stand up to the single minded profit monsters that clear out rainforest and remove mountain tops; however we individuals must take care of our day to day operations.

During the election I had a magnifying conversation with one of my self-declared refuse to vote friends. This person was so angry at the financial crisis he declared how there has to be mutiny in the street and that we all should take a stand. I politely informed him that at that very moment a movement was and had been happening with Occupy Wall Street. Unless I misunderstood what he said, I assumed he meant that we should all take a stand if the movement took place on his very street, knocked on his door, and dragged him out of the house and forced him to participate. I often think what it would be like if we all had to store our garbage on our own property. The toys, electronics, batteries, paint, pens, diapers, you are getting the point right?

So what is the answer? In my exploration I’ve come up with several answers for myself; the awareness that we are stewards of the earth and we have an opportunity to heal, nurture and care for her. Then awareness of what we consume each day and how each and every one of those items make an impact. Last, awareness of our personal power to shift our behaviors and stand face to face with the reality that we all have greed, fear and ignorance that tries to stop us from being walking, skipping and running examples for massive change. We all do not have to participate in marches, or be a member of Greenpeace, but we can allow ourselves to grow and evolve each day to align with our core values and encourage each of us to do the same.

I have had numerous conversations with people who are legitimately struggling, feeling overwhelmed by all the choices and truly don’t know where to start. I am quick to admit to all the ways I have “failed” to reach my expectations but we must move beyond those pesky internal roadblocks and find the courage to go against the conventional.  It may not feel good in the beginning but do not give in or give up and always remember a little bit goes a long way.

How do I start you ask? I am so impressed by you right now and I will share some ways that, I promise, are not threatening and will not make you feel like you are being deprived the joys of life. One by one I began replacing things in my life that I knew in my heart was not as nature intended. Food to me was the logical beginning, though you may choose differently. Eating organic and preferably local has a monumental effect on the eco-system and I changed my habits a small percentage at a time. For the money fear that I see creeping up in you think instead about the vast costs in our tax money to treat contaminated water, clean toxic sewage, and the money spent on treating and insuring unhealthy men, woman and children. You are creating compounded interest for you, your kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, grand dogs and grand cats and, well you get my drift. Start by making 10-25% of your groceries be of the type that does not deplete the top soil, expose migrant workers to cancerous herbicides and just plain tasted better. I have gradually increased my own supply to 50-75% (starting with the dirty dozen and eventually adding in grass fed beef and free range poultry). Next I moved on to converting to glass and cardboard packaging, non-chemical beauty supplies and then to environmentally safe (read labels please) cleaning products. All with the same percentage progression. I give myself a break when I am eating out while being mindful that I am heading in the direction to also make that change. My golden Grammy goal is to have a fully electric/solar car (and a society with the infrastructure to support it) and fully sustainable eco-house in a neighborhood that has woodland walkways, efficient public transit and real bike lanes (not the LA parking space type).

In the meantime, as we all catch up with our true power; I will continue to carry my reusable coffee and water cup. I promise to bring my own utensil to work or when I do forget I will save the plastic ware in my purse for another outing. I shall march on with the obvious, necessary and overstated-savior that is recycling and I bow to the gospel of composting. Give me props when you see me with my car turned car off in the long line at the gas station. I invite you to throw me a friendly wave at the Dunkin D’s drive-through if you hear me asking for a non-Styrofoam latte cup (yes they do that for regular java). And please please give me an encouraging smile at the restaurant when I overcome that cardinal sin which plagues most woman. The awful, terrible affliction that has been passed down from generation to generation. All mother’s sister’s and some men’s worse nightmare; that which is (brace yourself)…….The fear of appearing both….. ‘Annoying’ ….and much much worse (do I dare) and to be a…… ‘Bother’…… by asking my waiter for a fully biodegradable aluminum container with a low carbon footprint cardboard lid for my “American style home cooked meal,” the all mighty left overs!

So breath people……… breathe. I feel your heart beating heavily and I must remind you that I have been a work in progress for over ten years and I have days when I just don’t have the energy to care. There is no final destination just an honest approach and full acknowledgement that this is happening now. To the silent secret voice of opposition I acknowledge that a meteorite can hit our planet tomorrow and that Mother Nature’s mind can never be fully comprehended, but you and I must remind that voice over and over again that we are not self-gratifying children so there is no longer a need to act like one. We can now use our brains and see that if it kills weeds, roaches and wasps it will also kill babies (yup, left me no choice). I will, as I mentioned earlier, continue to go deep within myself to dig out all of the muck that is my hypocrisy and balance that with regularly giving myself a break when I am hanging out with my hippydippy woowoogranola super-duper wind turbine, solar panel conscious friends who make it all seem so easy and effortless. I ask you to do the same! So pep rally those who are stuck in the illusion of defeat cowering in the shadow of the American buffalo and next time you find yourself heading to the mall opt instead for Goodwill, salvation army, your local consignment or thrift store. Hey, rich people have to rid their designer prizes somewhere and your financial savings will create a symbiotic healing between you and the Mighty Mother that brought you here. Happy Earth day and makes this day your “New Year’s resolution”. Peace pachamama. Gaia. Terra Mater. Magna Dea. Dagan. Faunus. Kai. Mankato. Rhea. Wakan Tanka…And so it IS

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