What We're Doing Already Just Isn't Enough

by - Monday, September 11, 2017

ash all over tree in Seattle

This week, The Boy wrote me from work "It looks and smells like hell." That perfectly describes what it has felt like to live in the Pacific Northwest the last few days. This is a picture of the tree in our backyard, covered in ashes.

The reminder that something is terribly wrong, that our forests are facing tremendous fires, literally linger in the air. Every time I open the car door, a pile of ash falls down into the car. We are located a long way from the fire, and it still has taken over our city. I know that the closer people are to the fire, the less safe it is for them to even leave their house.

At the same time, Florida and islands near it have been ravaged by hurricane Irma while Houston is still reeling from Harvey. People died, lost their homes, and some are still missing. In other parts of the world, flooding and storms have been even more devastating- half of Bangladesh was underwater!

This week, we also learned that most of the world's drinking water (94%) has microplastics from synthetic and microfiber fabrics in it. This may not seem as scary as a hurricane, but research shows that plastic in our systems mess with our endocrine systems and our hormones, so much so that there is a correlation between plastic consumption and early periods in little girls and certain cancers in adults.

Caring about the environment can really wear you down. I try, honestly with all of my might to be optimistic and encouraging. When someone tells me they do buy single-use plastic water bottles but they recycle, I try to say "that's awesome! What else would you like to do to help?"

But the truth is, recycling cannot solve the problem. Less than 9% of plastics actually get recycled. And you can only recycle plastic twice before it gets too brittle to actually use. After that, it is off to the landfill to get sorted by Wall-E later.

The truth is recycling may be better than just throwing something in the trash, but it is not enough

You have to actively cut plastics and synthetic fabrics out of your life. Buy your stuff recycled, reused, or not at all (toys, papertowels, so many things). It's one thing to add to the massive pile of recycled stuff. It's another thing to make somebody's stuff useful again. Maybe join a group or sign a petition to fight the companies making these toxic clothes. We have to do more.

I could use so many things as another example of how "normal" behavior is not enough to help the environment. Another big one? Donations.

We all have too much in our house, but people do love to donate (in fact, it's been a real problem for hurricane relief, because they need your money, not your stuff). It makes us feel good to help others, and many good intentioned people harbor fantasies of helping the world while cleaning out our closets (myself included). How magnanimous and tidy of us! A meme floats around facebook every couple of months delineating where "good" places to donate to are and the "bad" ones. Goodwill gets crap because the CEO makes money and they aren't charitable.

But here is the thing. Secondhand selling (and the tremendous amount of work it takes to sort through your unwanted crap) is a perfectly reasonable way to make money. Our parents treated secondhand stuff like it was only for needy people, but honestly they were wrong.

Because donating isn't enough

Want to keep your house clean? To help fight climate change? To make your life happier, simpler, greener?

Fall in love with secondhand stuff. Clothes. Toys. Books. Construction Materials. Art Supplies. Most anything (other than like food and toothbrushes and so forth) can be found used. Check out lending libraries. Join your local Buy Nothing. Let go of the idea that you need things brand new or that gifts need to be brand new.

Just stop buying stuff for goodness sakes. 
You have too much stuff. You don't have to tell me your excuses, I've heard them. Stop using shopping as a passtime. Stop going to stores like Walmart or Target that are specifically designed to have you leave with 100 dollars more stuff than you planned for. Just stop.

Giving our stuff when we are done with it is great. We want every object to keep working until it cannot. But you have to think about how you acquire things as well.

It's not just that we each can do more, it's that we absolutely have to. 

I tell you everyday that you are doing fine, but maybe add this in? In the face of current events, it feels like the perfect time to commit to whatever change you have been milling about. Do it already. And I don't want to be discouraging, but man there are certain things that at this point I cannot understand.

I cannot understand why people are still buying bottled water. Unless you are in a hurricane or Flint, buy a damn reusable bottle and help us keep the world clean.

I cannot understand why people still buy everything brand new. With the age of the internet, it is SO EASY to get your paper goods recycled or your clothes secondhand.

I could keep going, but the point here is that you know you aren't doing perfectly, and neither am I. There are just some things that I can't pretend are ok, and neither should you.

In the face of this devastation, where we get more information everyday about just how poorly we are serving as stewards, it is time to do more. 

I say again and again that you don't have to be a granola-eating, zero-wasting, tree-hugging environmentalist to make a huge difference- you just have to be a decent person who is trying. I have tons of ideas about what that would look like- so poke around the blog to find switches for your basics, for ideas for cutting plastic, and for the case to give up (or dramatically lessen) your meat consumption.

For me, that means I am going to get involved with specific environmental groups fighting for the Earth. These changes are great if lots of people make them, but there is no conceivable reason why plastic bags still exist. Or why companies use fabrics with microfibers in them. They do it because they can make a little more money, it's cheap and easy, and no one is stopping them. I want to push harder at these companies who are choosing to do the wrong thing.

If you are feeling a tug to make some changes, I want to encourage you to do it. To push harder. Because I really do believe it makes your individual life better while conveniently saving the world as well. And I don't want my grandchildren facing even more destructive storms or playing in mountains of wildfire ash someday. And I bet you don't want that either.

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