Monday, October 15, 2007

"ma vie en vert"

I’ve been thinking about what to write for this Blog Action Day on the Environment for a little while now. It’s a mighty big subject, the environment. Saying you’re for the environment is basically saying, “I’m supportive of the health of the entire planet,” which is a sensible position to take when you consider that your own health, and that of your family, and friends, and actually, the entire global population of humans, completely and utterly depends on the health of the planet. And it’s a pretty big world, comprised of ecosystems large and small, plant and animal and fungal life, as well as all those micro-organisms, bacteria, viral life forms and things hard to classify like crazy ol’ lichen. Not to mention all the people – six billion of us and rising, quite quickly. And all of us billions of people living all over the world have an impact on the places we live in, on, with and over. Moreover, all these parts of the world (rivers, lakes, oceans, mountains, plains, forests, cities, roadways, etc) connect and touch at least one other part of the world. The word “interconnected” came into common use in 1865, according to my dictionary, but the planet Earth invented it long before.

So environmentalism is a comprehensive subject, to say the least. And lately, meaning the last 10 or so years, the environmental crisis we’re in globally has finally been making the news, which is heartening to plenty of environmentalists of various stripes who’ve been saying the same thing for a lot longer than 10 years: there are a lot of problems with the place we live, these problems are of our own making, and if we don’t fix them we are going to find ourselves forcibly evicted by the domicile itself, or at least living in a very different, much less comfortable, way.

Maybe “heartening” is not the right word. That’s not exactly great news. But what is heartening is how it’s more common now to overhear an “environmental” conversation, and how, even in the face of a sometimes-hopeless diagnosis, a lot of people are finding a way to hope, and learning how to make some changes. But despite all the recent press and celebrity sponsorship, environmentalism is still sort of shunted aside, made into a cause or an “ism” apart, when in reality it’s the health of the entire planet, which means you and me and every other person, place or thing dependent on having a healthy place to live, breathe, eat and play. I personally don’t know anyone that doesn’t fall under that description, no matter what party they vote for.

For me, environmentalism is everywhere. I don’t say this because I’m some kind of eco-heroine who lives her entire life in a completely sustainable way. I say this because whether I like it or not, I think about the environment a lot (unless, of course, I’m thinking about Coronation Street). Ever since I was a little kid and I found out my birthday coincided with Earth Day, and learned the reasons for such a day of remembrance, the Earth has been on my mind.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but I think it’s a good sample to show what I mean. The Earth is on my mind…

…when I’m taking a walk through my neighborhood, breathing the fall air and noticing the plant life in the ditches. I walk by the property of a local businessman who is going to put up condos and a new marina, I wonder to myself what that’s going to do the birds that nest by the water’s edge. I have no idea what the new development is going to do, but I wonder at a community that could care so little about these sorts of damages that no-one, not even our elected officials, is looking into it. I wonder at my own apathy, too – how afraid I am to start something.

…when I take an airplane somewhere, and before we take off I look out over the airfield and see all the other planes taking off, landing or just hanging out, and I realize that this is going on every hour of every day, not just here but every major city. Or when I sit on the deck outside at night, looking at the stars, and see several airplanes in the space of 5 minutes pass over our Eastern island. It’s on my mind when I ride in a car, which is a speedy and mostly convenient way to get around, but uses fossil fuels to do it. It’s on my mind when I ride my bike, or walk, or take a city bus.

…I’m using electricity – plugging in a lamp, listening to the radio, writing on the computer, refrigerating goods, running the vacuum cleaner, using the clothes dryer on a wet day. Electricity in my province comes mainly from coal-burning power plants, which is highly polluting and completely un-sustainable, yet there is no sign of this from the silent power outlet.

…I’m in a grocery store of a large chain and reading labels that claim the product is eco-friendly and organic, while coming from thousands of kilometers away. I read these labels and think about the power these words have over us, and how they help a lot of people feel better about their choices, buying these products. I weigh the importance of individual consumer awareness against the complexity of the truth and come up short, unsure.

…When I’m thinking about food in general – where to shop, what to buy, who to support, how local the food is. When I sit down for a meal, sometimes I think about where it came from, the people known and unknown who did the work to help this food make it to my plate, and become my nourishment. Food is a beautiful, delicious and immediate way to be an environmentalist – my lunch today looked picture perfect, tasted amazing, and about 90% of its ingredients came from Cape Breton Island.

…When I think about my future – what can I expect from the next 20 years? And of course it’s always impossible to know the future, but these days I frequently consider that fact. Will global warming have wreaked havoc on food systems, and societal infrastructure? Should I focus on what kind of job I can get, or on how best to survive in the chaos of societal collapse? So far I do a bit of both. Also, I consider the environment, and my passion for its continued health, when I consider what to do with my time, my energy, my life, down the road. I want to contribute with my life somehow, knowing little about how my contribution will affect change to come, but feeling nonetheless that things must change, starting with our personal lives, starting now.

I’m telling you this not because I’m expecting eco-points for how virtuous I am, thinking about the environment all day long. In fact, most of the time when I’m reflecting on things “eco”, I’m feeling pretty hopeless, or guilty for not doing more! But I’m showing you the range of my thoughts on the matter because to me, environmentalism is not just an “ism” separate from daily reality. For me, this so-called “one issue” impacts on everything we do, so we ought to be talking about that fact – how our lives are so connected to the environment we live in, and how the crises within that environment therefore connect us all to each other – even if we have little idea how to address the increasingly intertwined issues. Talking is the first step.

Some other steps:
  1. Check out the Blog Action Day website or blog. Look around the links to check out other blogs' contributions.
  2. Educate yourself further!
  3. Make some noise to your elected officials.
  4. Go outside frequently. Maintain your connection to the earth.
When and where did you think about the environment today? There are no wrong answers. Don’t be ashamed if you didn’t, or if you’re unsure what to do about the guilt you might be feeling. Leave a “sustainable” comment in my “biodegradable” comment box, and we’ll talk the talk, and hopefully walk that talk, too.

Also, just out of my own curiosity, if you read this post, would you mind leaving a comment, even if all you say is "Hi"? I'd like to know how many people this reached. Thanks!

(Photo courtesy of Space Today Online. And yes, it is a bit of a cliche, but a useful one.)

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