Sustainability – delusion or practice?

Wondering about sustainability….

Thinking about all these promises we make and directions we choose and purchases because they are sustainable.  But are they?  Rarely.

How can we really be sustainable?  And do we really want to sustain?  What do you want to sustain?  I love to transform, but would like to sustain life…  But life is always changing, not sustaining a picture that once was or is tomorrow.  Changing so rapidly we don’t even notice the ice melting or Texas freezing…

I buy sustainable light bulbs.  Have you ever been to those factories in China?  Do you know what you are supporting?  Is it at all non-toxic?  Not so much.  Probably worse than the old ones….

Do you prefer ceramic to styrofoam?  Why?  Which one decays better??  Which one costs less energy to produce?  Yes, I prefer ceramic, but maybe not so many of them….  Maybe not needing to stock my shelves like an average American, like I used to… way more than I need… and then get rid of them after awhile and buy new ones….

What is sustainable?

Is it better to live in a place where you see the trash piling up on the river banks and know that it is only getting worse, especially with the advent of plastic…?  Or is it better to live in America and watch your trash get picked up weekly and go to some unknown place and never consider how much shit you are piling up to add to massive piles of an overindulging country?  Is it better to be blind or aware of the waste we accumulate?

Is it better to buy the organic greens packaged in PET or PETE plastic containers, or to buy the non-organic leafy greens that are not in a container?  Is organic farming always what it says it is?

Are plastic bottles safe to drink out of?  Do the mixed answers depend on who’s conducting the study?  After watching “Tapped”, I will never buy another bottle of water again.  I can do that.  Isn’t it funny to know that this will probably be hard to do?  Some people hike for miles every day just to get bad water.  We are blessed.

What is sustainable?  Is it making a trendy decision to buy the hybrid, instead of driving your old car and trying to get the very most use of it as possible?  Is it buying bamboo pants, or buying pants from the thrift store, or not shopping for new pants until you really really need them?  Is it my responsibility to live up to my ideals all the time?  How can I even begin?  How to unwash my brain from all these years of being groomed to consume?

Is there a middle path?

I’ve always said I love this core teaching of the Buddha – walk the middle path.  Not too much, not too little.  I try not to be so strict, because I think life is about living.  And yet I try to nourish myself and stay as clear as possible, while not fighting the culture I am co-creating with you, and G. W. Bush, and Opera, and everyone else in this crazy place.  I am a part of this, and trying to best understand how to live up to my beliefs, and still touch into this thriving culture somehow.  I don’t want to be a hermit to live off the land – I want to keep exploring all of it.

I believe that someday the sun will die.  I believe that it may be possible humans will live on another planet by then, but in the meantime, I believe in keeping this one clean and noticing just how fortunate we are.  Just like my body – I try to keep it clean and love it.  I’m not freaking out about global warming – the earth has done this hundreds of times.  Just look at the data from longer time frames in Earth’s history.  Temperatures are spiking as usual, and then we will move into a serious ice age (the real scare, according to my research).  But whatever your opinion about global warming or climate change, we are just being dirty by using so much trash and polluting our air, and why would we do that?

So.. how to walk the middle path?  How to make decisions and truly live “sustainably”?  And how to deal with this idea of a heating or cooling planet that could radically change our lives tomorrow or in 1000 years?

I think a really obvious answer is to remember that your dollars are votes (that goes far beyond this conversation!), and you can start by supporting local as much as possible.  Yes, this is a lovely gimmicky thing that’s been happening for awhile – buy local.  And it’s intelligent.  Is it better to buy the organic stuff from four states away, or the local stuff that is not organic?  Tough to say.  Depending on the product, I’ll buy the local.  Fresh food is amazing, and is so much healthier for you!  Organic fresh food is even better for you.  Fresh isn’t only uncooked, but fresh is the thing that was harvested just recently a few miles away and is now in your kitchen.  Or better, was harvested from your garden at the time you are ready to prepare the meal. “Fresh” food from across the world not only wasted a lot of resources, but also aged badly…

The amount of fuel that goes into the food on your table is intense.  If you want to drive your hybrid but eat lots of meat, you might want to think about looking a little closer to home for a meat supplier.  50% of CO2 emissions are from the meat industry.  Yes, I said 50%.  A very important reason I turned veg.  But you can eat meat sustainably – there are coops and local farmers that you can find.  And if you are lucky, they’ll raise their animals organic, and then you can avoid scary hormones and antibiotics, and be a little healthier and your kids can be much healthier…

Lots to think about.

There are no easy answers.  Sustainable is not an easy thing to do.  It starts most easily by wasting less.  What do you throw away the most?  If you use water bottles, have you ever tried a Pur pitcher?  I love it, and drink all my tap water with a little filter from Pur.  While I know that tap water is more regulated than bottled water, and should be safer, I know that some buildings’ pipes are older than others, so I like the filter too.  What else might you be throwing away (or recycling) lots of?

Going sustainable can happen one step at a time.  You can start buying things in bulk – Whole Foods is great for that, or even better, a local coop.  And instead of using their little plastic bags (which are certainly part of those growing islands of plastic in the sea), consider bringing your own container to fill, and have them weigh it before you fill it.

A little something about plastic…. you can go WAY out into the ocean and test the water, and you will see more plastic than plankton.  Think about that.  Seriously.  And how long has plastic been around?

Back to going sustainable…

A compost is a lovely thing to do, and will make a major difference on the environment!  Do you know that food waste produces massive amounts of methane in dumps?  This is a problem, with such an easy solution!  Starting a compost is easy.  You should do your research first, because poorly tended compost bins can lead to pests, but it is well worth figuring out.  Do you live in a little apartment?  I used to think this was a challenge for composting, but you can use a worm bin!  Done right, there can be little or no odor, and amazing castings for fertilizing your indoor kitchen herb garden (another easy thing to start!).

Speaking of one step at a time, think about the next non-food item you are planning to purchase and take a few minutes to research it.  What is it made out of?  Where do these materials come from?  Where is it assembled?  Will it last a long time?  What are you supporting with those dollars?

I don’t recommend beating yourself up for all the crap you have that is going to become toxic waste, and supported toxic processes to get to you (how about those computers?).  Seriously, the middle path.

I think there is a way to be realistic here and also acknowledge that you can get so far into environmentalism that you think all progress is not progress at all.  I disagree.  I have a different view of deep ecology and think that this planet we are spinning on has taken care of itself for far too long for us to be solo in responsibility (I know -edgy).  Either way, there are beautiful things that we can be grateful for, like this computer.  So grateful that some piece of land gave all of its life over to allow me to sit at my outdated mac powerbook and have a conversation with you.

Life is beautiful, and it has unfolded into this.  While we may be disconnected from nature, maybe too much, and we may be oblivious to where our things come from, we also engage in life in new and phenomenal ways.  We can celebrate this, and at the same time try to be a little kinder to this body that gives us breath and shelter and each other – this big beautiful earth body that gives and gives and gives…

What is sustainable?  It’s a debate, and a hard look, and has no clear answer.  Maybe most things that seems sustainable are not.  Maybe the whole idea of sustainability is delusional, because it all changes anyway.  Maybe all those things that you are told are sustainable are not.  Probably that is true.  Maybe sustainability is both a delusion and a practice.  And the practices are worthwhile.  It’s all up for question.  What feels true for you?  Do you research, either online or in your heart, and see what is true for you.  Either way, will you consider not dirtying up the world so much?

Getting practical with your one step at a time… actually think about where you drive to, and just try walking a little more.  Or riding a bike.  Good for you, good for the environment.  All this can become healthy patterns that just feel like good changes in your life.  Sometimes feeling good can actually come before convenience (what?! ..not what we are taught).

If you want to really rock it and get serious, take a permaculture course.  Otherwise, take a deep breath and consider buying some things in bulk.  See what you can do to cut back a little on your trash.  And then maybe a little more.  Think about investing some time into a compost bin, and hopefully a garden – even a little one.  Maybe learn how to cook that favorite packaged dish from scratch…

In the meantime, try to be kind to yourself.  Try not to make environmental responsibility equal massive guilt.  Instead, just take some steps – one at a time.  If you live with someone else, maybe try to make it a group endeavor, or if you are so lucky, a family project.  Take a step every week, and find that it can be fun to do.

Think about what sustains you personally, and what exactly you want to sustain.  Do you take all the time you want to get outside?  To do you Yoga?  To go to the gym?  Sometimes a little bit of scheduling can make great habits and make everything feel so much better.  A little bit counts.

Health in the big picture, health in the little picture, it’s all practice.  And it all feels better after a little getting used to.

Sustainability starts with a decision, and a smile.  What are you deciding?  Can I see that smile?

  1. christy flores’s avatar

    What a thought-provoking, on-target look at sustainability! Go big picture and broad spectrum and realize that we can’t possibly do everything but we can all do something! Everything has impact; it may be extremely miniscule or quite significant. Choose consciously.

  2. James Vitale’s avatar

    Thank you Kelly, for some sustainable common sense. The Middle Path seems to be the wisest of all approaches.