Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Does Earth Day Matter?

I suppose when you are carnival host, you are really not supposed to wait until the last minute to post. But it's a tough question. I mean, okay, okay, I know, I SET the damn question!!

But still.

Because here's the honest truth. I don't know.

I don't know if Earth Day matters. I don't know if anything matters, really. Seven months into academia and I don't know that I know anything anymore.

It's ... I've had a difficult time blogging these past few months. And it's not exactly the time commitment which everyone warned me about. It's more that ... I've felt like I've changed somehow. I've been less than optimistic more often. I've been less convinced that one's personal life choices can make a difference. At the same time, I'm not really trusting that governments are committed to dealing with the crises we face. I've felt sort of ... well, lost really.

At the same time, I feel like I've been shouldering this heavy, burdensome guilt. You see, ever since I started school, I've been letting old bad habits slip back into my life. Like, for instance, buying pre-packaged meals. Or not always bringing my thermos with me when I want a tea. Or buying candy from the vending machine. And I feel horrible and guilty and all, and yet, I also am not really working hard to mend my bad habits. Instead, I excuse my way in one form or the other (I'm at school! I don't have a desk or a microwave! It's hard to bring my own lunch!! or if I'm a cranky mood, Oh, what does it matter anyway if I use a damn disposable cup. We're all headed to Camp TEOTWAWKI anyway.)

This makes me feel like a fraud to you, my blog readers. Because really, what business do I, who knows nothing about anything, who does not know what to believe anymore, and who doesn't even always bring her own stupid thermos even though it is really so simple and everyone should do it, what business do I have to write a blog that purports to be about environmental issues? What right do I have to pretend to be some role model? What right do I have to claim to be an environmentalist?

Of course, the ironic thing is that my carbon footprint is lower than it has been in years for one very simple reason: I no longer drive.

And this brings me to the whole, "Is Earth Day relevant?" thing. Because here's the thing. When I was in LA, I worked my freaking ASS off to lower my carbon footprint, and even then, I could never get my transport allowance down that far. I think the best I did was something like 35% of the average American's. Here in London, I can try not at all, and I'll still come out with flying colors because it's just so much easier to live lightly in London.

We can try to reduce our emissions wherever we are, and we should, but the truth is that without bigger infrastructure changes, some people will have a much more difficult time than others. It is reasonable to ask Londoners to walk and bike more. It is not reasonable to ask the typical Angeleno to walk two miles to the subway, and then take a subway to a bus to work, thus tripling their commute time. Yes, that might be what I did in LA, but I don't think it's particularly fair to expect that level of commitment from all Angelenos. Individual reductions are important, but we can't really expect people to change their practices without reforming our institutions. Without making it easier to change.

So yes, Earth Day is important. Yes, you should, I should, we should all bring our thermos with us. We should say no to plastic bags and we should walk more and drive less. We should try to eat more fruits and vegetables, and try and buy them organic and local.


We're going to run into walls ... many of us have already run into walls, if social institutions are not reformed, if we cannot build better cities, if we cannot change public policies, if we cannot reform our governments. I mean, here I am worrying about disposable cups, what about all the money I paid in taxes that went to fund wars that are, among their many faults, fairly carbon intensive? My share of the war in Iraq probably more than outdoes any good I have done in the world by buying my pasta in bulk.

Does Earth Day matter? I don't know. But, I am reminded of what Lord Stern said today when he was asked why he was optimistic. He asked pointedly, what the alternative was.

For me, what is the alternative to buying my sodding bulk pasta, and being better about my reusable mug, and hoping that by coming together with all of you, by writing, by communicating, and by living life in the pursuit of a better world, we will create that better world?

So, really, I don't know if Earth Day matters or not in the grand scheme of things. But what's the alternative? Maybe, instead of fretting about Earth Day and whether it really matters, I should just make it a day that is important for ME.

So, I will celebrate my Earth Day in recognition that I am fallible, but that I can do better. I will remind myself to stay optimistic, because, like Lord Stern I am familiar with the alternative and it's kinda the suck.

And I'm going to wash my damn reusable mug so that I can take it with me to campus tomorrow.

Happy Earth Day, everyone. We may not know what the future will hold, but I know that I'll get by with a little help from my blog friends.


Tina Cardone said...

I was feeling really badly about not participating in this month's carnival, but I'm glad that you faced the same issue as I did. I look forward to reading other people's responses and maybe if I figure everything out, I'll write a post afterwards!

Farmer's Daughter said...

You are human! You are not perfect. None of us are.

I'm feeling like I've made most of the changes I'm able to make without a change in infrastructure. I have to drive to work, that's it!

Sometimes I just get tired of worrying about the environment when so many people don't care. However, on Earth Day, if just for one day, so many people care. It makes me feel like my efforts are worth it, and I'm not acting alone with my blogging friends.

JessTrev said...

Sheesh, you kinda got me choking up there! You know, I feel your pain when it comes to the bigger picture ie infrastructure. I think this is what makes me want to become more politically active (in addition to trying to improve in my personal lifestyle choices, not in lieu of).

Anonymous said...

Earth Day matters if it matters to you. I think we get into trouble if we worry too much about the larger consequences. Do our actions matter to us? Does the way that we live on the planet feel authentic or not? Can we face ourselves in the mirror?

Of course, we need bigger, structural changes. But whether we get them or not, we still have to live with ourselves, right?

Eco Yogini said...

I had a comment the other day telling me to: "Allow yourself some Grace". I was feeling guilty, horribly guilty about the fact that I composted an ENTIRE head of romaine lettuce because of the little green bugs were grossing me out. sigh.

Having gone through a master's program at University just two years ago, I can totally relate with feelings of catastrophy and helplessness. Obviously this may not be the only reason for you, but I found that school can do that to people. You're stressed, you're working soooo hard, you NEED to do well because you're paying a ZILLION dollars for this... and Universities tend to encourage dissent towards 'the system'. So you're surrounded by cynical messages about 'the man'.
Sadly, voter turnouts (for Canadians) for under 30 is abismally low.

Being surrounded by so many negative, apocolyptic messages, research, writings and thoughts (this includes the eco-world as well) can erode on a person. Allow yourself to feel good about what you have accomplished. You are an amazing blogger who has reached sooo many people with your insights, struggles and knowledge. This makes a difference.

Allow yourself some Grace to be you :)


Katy said...

I find myself in your place this Earth Day. I'm stressed and tired. I didn't wake up in time to pack my luch today so I will have to eat out... on Earth Day.

The fact that you are human, that you aren't always perfect, that you slip into buying those candy bars from the vending machines is what make your blog one that I come back to all the time. Because in the end, we are all humans trying to live the best we can in the systems we are in.

Does Eath Day matter? Probably not to most people, but it is a day that makes me stop and take stock of how I am living and what I can do to live better.

Kate said...

I'm glad you wrote this. And I hope you know that at least some of what you're feeling does indeed stem from being in academia. There are stages to graduate school that are in some ways necessary to eventually becoming a well-rounded, critical thinker. There's "I know everything," "I know nothing, "I can never add to what's already been said," "Things can't change." And yet, there are later stages, like "I care about this" and "I want to fight for this" and "I feel protective of my idea." You eventually find the hope and the fight again. And with that comes fresh perspective.

Learning new material or entering into a new program ALWAYS starts with these feelings because it is overwhelming to have so much new information, and yet too early to be able to synthesize and have perspective. Feeling bad about it never helped anybody. You'll find your fight again, and you'll figure out how to go back to being your thermos-using self. :)

Oldnovice said...

I think Earth Day is very important. It's the one time of year in which non-envirowackos make an attempt to go green. It's a start, and I've noticed that public radio has been holding many, many aired discussions on various "green" topics including eliminating "goody" bags at kids' birthday parties, wrapping paper for kids' birthday gifts (from peers), etc. The ideas presented are GOOD, and folks don't have to be envirowacko to implement them. <-- [This is how we take over the masses... (said in a lowered voice with head held down and to the side)]

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Well, you've made a difference to me. You were my gateway into the whole APLS blogging community, and I've learned soooo much from you guys!

I've literally just come out of an Earth Day sustainability workshop in my building. They provided free organic sandwiches and organic fair trade coffee (IF you brought your own mug), and we shared ideas of small changes that we can all make (printing double sided etc). They then told us that introducing things like motion sensors for the lights has enabled the organisation (across multiple buildings) to save enough energy in the last year to power 400 homes. It's pretty amazing how it all adds up.

The funny thing was that I didn't really learn a single new sustainability tip today, because I'd heard it all before, and much much more, on APLS blogs ;) I mentioned this to the person next to me (plus how I bike to work, compost, grow some of my own food etc) and she turned out to be in the PR office. She took my card and she might want to interview me!!! Crazy... I'm only a very pale green APL!

CindyW said...

Hey there, long time no comment. Seriously it's been months. I haven't left any comments here, but I do read your blog on the weekly basis. And you might have noticed that I stop blogging. My reason? I sort of fell into the same dejected state - does what I do really matter in the grand scheme of things? Ironically, the deep recession did so much more to give the environment a break than many of Earth Days combined. Don't throw stone at me. It is true.

At the same time, I am incredibly hopeful, for the first time in eight years. We have a new administration that actually believes in science, gets the urgency of climate crisis, and is actively putting forth policies to right the course. EPA is on the side of the environment (go figure), Our secretary of Energy is a Nobel laureate who wants to deal with climate crisis through sound energy policies, and our secretary of state has climate change on her agenda list.

Inspired by the positive political environment, I've changed my focus to working on green businesses that potentially have greater impact. Day to day, I still bring my bags to stores, use my Diva cup, shop at farmer's market, airdry my launch (okay, half of the time), and compost everything compostable. But I no longer fret if I forget to bring my cup to a coffee shop.

Does Earth Day matter? I don't know. But I hope it won't matter at some point because everyday is an Earth Day. :) With the current political progressiveness, we may just get there.