Monday, September 14, 2009

If you've ever seen I Heart Huckabees, it about sums me up.

"What am I doing? I don't know what I'm doing. I'm doing the best that I can. I know that's all I can ask of myself. Is that good enough? Is my work doing any good? Is anybody paying attention? Is it hopeless to try and change things? [...] Maybe I should quit. Don't quit. Maybe I should just f*cking quit. Don't f*cking quit. Just, I don't know what the f*ck I'm supposed to do anymore."
-- Albert Markovski, I Heart Huckabees

That's me--the classic existentially angsty upper-middle-class environmentalist! But at least I can laugh at myself. This is the meaningful, emotionally-charged post where I bare my soul. Then we can get on to the fun stuff.

So here it is: not a day goes by that I don't agonize over a disposable coffee cup, an extra car trip, or the sad future of our planet in general.

I care a lot-- it's kind of annoying, actually. I care about animals and their habitats; I care about the beauty and integrity of the earth; I care about trees; I care about the health and happiness of my future children; I care about losing our beautiful winters (and I'm not being sarcastic). But why? I just do-- it comes from somewhere pretty deep. And I believe that everyone cares in some way, even if they're not letting themselves feel it.

I can't stand to see the earth fall apart at the hands of humans, especially because I'm just as guilty as anyone. It makes me really, really sad.

So how do I cope?

When you suffer from chronic guilt, rationalization becomes your best friend: "I have to take a car to the store-- cat litter is heavy!" "My shower was too long today, but it's ok because I won't have one tomorrow." "I'll buy fast food just this once, but only because I promise to take all the garbage home to recycle."

Of course, this only partly works.

Another handy coping strategy: doublethink. This Orwellian technique can sometimes give me a much-needed break from my environmental angst: while knowing full well the state of things on one level, I simultaneously block it out and exist in blissful ignorance. However, this is a dangerous tool and must be used sparingly. I think too many people indulge in doublethink on a regular basis (whether it results in simple environmental apathy or outright climate change denying). You can't keep your head under the sand all the time-- nothing gets done.

But then we get to that endlessly frustrating question: what is the point? Will I single-handedly stop climate change by walking to the store one afternoon instead of driving? No. What's the difference if I recycle this one can or throw it in the trash?

But it's still important to try.

I cannot stand when people say "The earth is a lost cause, so why bother doing anything to help?"

For one thing, maybe we can't reverse all the damage, but it's not an all or nothing deal. We can make things better, if not perfect. Clearing plastic bags out of one urban river habitat may not solve the world's sustainability issues, but it will clear the junk away for birds and squirrels to make their homes. Baby steps.

Plus, it's a matter of principle. Just because there seems to be one inevitable negative outcome does not mean it's ok to actively participate in making it a reality.

If nothing else, making the effort to be green is essential to my mental health. Humans need hope to survive.

My goal is to live with the knowledge that not-so-good things are happening to the earth, while actively working to be part of the solution. This way I can ease my guilt and be productive.

In the end, I think the key to my survival will be to focus on the good.


  1. Humans need hope to survive.

    What a true and powerful statement.

    And the link at the end just made me say "Aawwww!" (Very sophisticated, I know)

    If you know of any crews volunteering to clean rivers, etc., post a link!

  2. I come from a culture where environmentalism is somewhat elbowed aside because of other pressing issues involving baser needs so generally, I'm less inclined to environmental activism. It's not that I don't like it or am completely ignorant of it, I just wasn't raised around it. That said, I think what you are doing and writing about is great. I think more people should care about the environment. I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog and taking from it so that I can orient myself more towards conservation. :)

  3. That sort of ties into the idea that you actually have to be quite priviledged to 'indulge' in environmental activism-- I totally understand that people often have what may be more important things to worry about.

    Then again, most often environmental issues go hand-in-hand with human rights issues--access to safe and affordable food, water, places to live-- it all ties into creating healthy, self-sustaining communities. That's a simplification, of course.

  4. How is it best said again, 'Think global, act local.' That's always a good place to start.

    If I can walk to get something, I do. I get a kick out of people that drive to go mail a letter or something when it's maybe a 10-15 minute walk away. The letter weighs maybe an ounce and you're using a 900kg vehicle to mail it. That just does not compute.

  5. Sandy, you should really meet my father. He lived in Montreal and Toronto in the early sixties, taking classes in ecology and design at Queens University before there was any interest or industry for eco-design. During that time he also studied medicine and became a life long piscetarian (no meat, or meat by products, only fish)because of the discovery of the negative impact factory farmed animals had on both the body and the environment. He raised our family on a rural farm, with no air conditioning, and a wood stove for heat. He and my mother planted dozens of trees to off put our carbon emmissions, and raised our own chickens for organic, vegetarian eggs (we never slaughtered our chickens either, they died of natural causes).

    He has been a part of the green movement since its early days, and remains passionate about the subject. I think you two would have a LOT to talk about.

  6. He sounds great- I'll keep that in mind!