Change, the environmental crisis, and the average person

I dropped by Long’s Drugstore on Sunday – a rare event in my life – to pick up a few cartons of Epsom Salt for healing baths.

It was packed to the gills. Apparently, Sunday is the super-sales day.

In the States, Long’s – and her sister stores like Walmart, K-Mart, and CVS – offer one-stop shopping for all things toxic and plastic.

Waves of off-gassing fumes wafted through the air, emanating from the plastic products, their packaging, and the overload of people dipped in perfume and fragrance drenched personal care products.

When my long line finally inched me in front of the checkout counter, I noticed the last chance display of 4-dose packs of Alleve, Advil, Tylenol, Motrin, Pepcid AC, Benadryl, Claritin, and Alka-Seltzer Gold. At least they were packaged in paper, not plastic. Not that there are plenty of trees to spare. There’s really no excuse for unnecessary small-dose packets like this.

Why are all these really nice people buying all this really bad stuff?

The thing is all the people were really nice. The guy in front of me shared his friendly advice, “Oh yeah, you have to come on Sunday to get the sales.” The cashier could have won the award for Ms. Congeniality. In Hawai’i, “aloha spirit” prevails. But even outside of Hawai’i, most people in the world are nice.

I couldn’t help but wonder, “What are all these really nice people doing buying all this really bad stuff?” Besides trying to save money in these financially challenging times?

I couldn’t be mad at them. Like me and you, they just want to be happy and they don’t want to suffer – the prime motivator behind all our actions. And, they just think they really need this stuff.

The average person has no idea they are being poisoned

As my mind chewed away on the question at hand, two points became crystal clear to me:

1. The average person has no clue that they are being poisoned by environmental toxins. Nor do they realize they are in turn poisoning the planet and themselves by buying all this toxic, plastic, and/or chemicalized stuff.  Climate change is an abstract, faraway concept.

2. The average person doesn’t make the connection between the denatured food in their shopping cart (like packaged soups loaded with sodium and MSG) plus out-gassing poisons in the indoor and outdoor air and the need for all those headache, allergy, and stomach medications. All those pills and the “other ingredients” they contain have adverse side effects that feed into the cycle of ill health too. Goodness, even some anti-histamines get their start from oil.

It’s pretty well known that environmental toxins are one factor in the rise in allergies and chronic illness, but no one seems to be telling the masses. In case you don’t know, indoor pollution can be up to 10 times worse than outdoor pollution. In other words, being inside almost anywhere is not necessarily very healthy for you on the long run.

I use the word “average” simply to mean “typical” and “most of us.” It doesn’t imply any sense of better or worse, good or bad. A few years back, I was in exactly the same shoes as any average Joe or Jill – fairly oblivious to my personal environmental impact. I was probably more aware than many, but still far from green.

To be honest, in the face of all this “normal” toxic consumption, I felt disheartened for a moment.

You see, I rarely go to big stores so the experience can make a big impression on me.

How do we let the secret out of the bag?

I wondered,

  • How do you reach out and really touch the average person?
  • How do you let them know the environmental crisis is real?
  • Does blogging really make a difference at all? Is there a better way?
  • What’s the point of preaching to the converted anyway?
  • Are we really making a dent in the environmental crisis?
  • Even getting sick doesn’t seem to wake people up. What will?
  • How do we empower people?  Let them know what they do makes a difference?
  • In short, how can we make a real difference in this world of ours?

I left Long’s with more questions than answers. 

What do you think?  Do you have your own answers to these questions?  What gives you hope and encouragement?

In the meantime, “2010 is running neck-and-neck with 1998 as having the warmest first eight months of a year since the start of recordkeeping in 1880.” That means more Artic sea ice is melting. “…tens of thousands of walruses had flocked to shorelines because the sea ice they normally rely on this time of year was scarce.

And eminent Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh warns of an impending environmental catastophere unless we clean up the inner landscapes of our mind.

If you liked this article, please share the link with others.  Thanks so much!  Sandra

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36 thoughts on “Change, the environmental crisis, and the average person

  1. Great post and questions Sandra. It’s easy to go nuts thinking about how to reach more people, with what messages, and how.

    I feel I have a better effect on earth by simply being informative wherever I can. I try to strike a balance between being overwhelming and helpful.

    You’ve already pointed out the most important fact – the problem is knowledge and awareness.

    Here are some suggestions along these lines, others will likely have more:

    1. Do not put money in the hands of companies that abuse the environment. Not only will they abuse the environment with the power you give them, they’ll keep people in the dark too.

    2. Support people to make positive changes, no matter how small. Always supportive. Educational, but supportive. It’s a fine line.

    OK I’m out of ideas for now.

    • Those are excellent ideas, Ali. Thank you. I’m already very careful, but I intend to be even more vigilant about not putting money in the hands of companies that abuse the environment. But it’s hard to get Epsom Salt without doing that!

      • This was a really thought-provoking post Sandra! I’ve had a lot of discussions lately on these kinds of things…and haven’t solved the problems yet :P I totally agree with Ali on both is ideas. When I was younger I was very ”anti”‘ boycotting or economic sanctions, taking actions of those kinds, because I felt that would hurt normal people who were trying to make a living as well as the big companies and governments. Whether I was right or wrong, I feel the time for worrying about those things has sadly passed. It’s time to ‘opt out’ financially of all suspect products whenever we can.

        As you mention, this is hard. I came to realise recently that if we apply these scruples of buying wisely from good companies along with living a more minimal life and an environmentally friendly life then it could work. I’m not necessarily saying you will find your epsom salts, but basically if we lead a life where we cut right down on what we view as ‘necessary’, rethink our food systems, buy ethically, buy green and so on – then we can take the time we need to source the ‘fewer’ products we need to buy from the companies who are doing the right thing.

        As I said to Mum (she’s such a great sounding board) it’s time consuming buying green because but if you combine it with minimalism then it’s ok ‘cos you don’t buy much! :D

        I also really think that pressure must be applied fully to governments to keep on implementing more and more environmental changes that will help societies to move easily into a more sustainable lifestyle. As “Tess the Bold Life”‘s comment below pointed out it’s not easy for people to run headlong into change. But, that change is made a lot easier when it’s backed up with government policy changes….they facilitate societal change and make everything more speedily. It makes it more painless. So I think that if we want to help others then we can lobby for change as soon as we feel confident to do so.

  2. Great post, Sandra. I often wonder if blogging really helps, but I think it does. I know reading blogs helped me a huge deal in making progress in my personal life, even though I was already drawn to the environmental spirit.

    I think people are trying to tell the masses, but they aren’t really interested in hearing about it yet or making changes. Or perhaps we’ve been all too focused on climate change and what to do about it, instead of focusing on our overall connection with nature or way of living. Improvements in day to day life are what really move people. Unfortunately, people are nice, but they really only care about themselves and whether or not the issue is personally relevant.

    I think we should be supportive of anyone trying to send a good message. Each person has some degree of influence over their friends and family, if no one else.

    • I think you are right, Lynn. I’ve learned so much from reading blogs. Also it’s a great way to support and inspire each other.

      Supporting anyone trying to send a good message is a wonderful tip. Even if we only touch one person, we never know how many people that person might touch!

      Thanks so much for your comment.

  3. Hi Sandra, this is a hard one. Many people think I’m crazy for telling them about dangers with common foods, drugs, and other products. They figure the government would never allow the sale of anything dangerous. Often they get part of the message – like fast food can make you gain weight and have high cholesterol – and not the rest of the idea – fast food has nasty chemicals in it.

    In my personal life, I try to lead by example and “detach from result.” If people seem receptive I give them more info. For example, I was able to get my mother off aspartame because she is very food conscious. My father still sees nothing wrong with it.

    • This is very sage advice, Jennifer — the part about “detaching from results.” You really elucidate the automatic trust people have in the government, although it’s not necessarily warranted.

      Thanks for adding this to the discussion. It was a perspective I needed to hear.

    • “‘They figure the government would never allow the sale of anything dangerous.”

      Isn’t it sad?! I wonder if deep down they know but they just don’t want to have to deal with it because they know their lives will be made difficult – and it is hard when you have to avoid certain things. Or…do they really not believe?

      It’s really excellent advice to “‘detach from result”. You can only do what you can and what others do is up to them.

  4. I hardly ever go to big shopping centres – only when I need to buy something that I can’t find anywhere else, just like you do. And I, too, marvel at the amount of “yuck” that’s on sale…and why people keep buying it…

    Blogging helps, I learnt heaps just reading blogs, so please don’t stop!

    We can only change ourselves, and lead by example – and that’s what I try to do. I try to spread the word, sharing what I know with friends and acquaintances.
    I support initiatives and sign petitions.
    And I try to be mindful when I shop.

    Every little helps, and I do my bit :)

    • Cristina, I feel very uplifted and encouraged by your comment and your dedication to leading by example. You are right – every little bit helps! Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  5. Sandra,

    I’ve been away from the Internet for close to a week, exploring my Digital Detox a bit more, but I’m glad to come back to this post. Excellent.

    No joke — the questions you pose are ones I have been struggling with for over three years as a blogger. They are spot on. Here are my thoughts, slightly abbreviated:

    (This might come across as being negative, but I like to think of it more as taking a realist-type position.) What you, I or anybody is doing to try and connect with the masses is noble and necessary. But at the end of the day, no matter how many new eyes read our posts we are only skimming the surface of the masses. To some extent we preach to the choir — though new members are joining in all the time.

    I believe that it is only when the average (Western) person begins to feel the effects personally will they change their ways. Most likely, this will take the form of a hit to their wallet. Money — in one way, shape or form — still makes most of the world go ’round so when it takes a hit, people take notice.

    Other personal impacts could include health, their children, their jobs, their property, etc.

    In a way, therein lies the trouble with the current environmental movement. No amount of facts, figures and/or fatalism will hit home for the vast majority of people. The problems of global warming, climate change, peak oil, food and water shortages, population displacement, etc. are too distant for the average Westerner. That’s why I think the message of “small things do make a difference” is a tough sell for a person who sees little impetus for personal or collective change.

    If Environmentalism 1.0 was ushered in the 60′s and 70′s and Version 2.0 is currently focused on the development and deployment of technology to fix the planet, I believe Version 3.0 will see the rise of what I call ‘eco-beings’. It will focus on a reconnection with Nature and all that is interconnected on this planet. It will manifest in a new Earth Ethic that enables all of us to see our place in the world so much differently.

    Will it happen overnight? No. Will it be easy to realize? No. But as more and more people get fed up with the world as it stands now and begin to take steps to change their inner and outer selves, the change will spread. When coupled with the more material impacts of our ways that I mentioned above, the change will accelerate.

    The question is: Will we have passed the point of no return, when damage from unchecked consumption is already in play with little chance of slowing or stopping it from happening?

    Time will tell.

    • Bill, I really learned something from reading your response. I’m so grateful that you wrote it. Two keys you highlight is how to make this (1) personal for people and (2) a hit on the wallet. I will keep those in mind.:)

      You are right – we need to keep doing what we can do even if the impact isn’t huge. It still makes a difference in our life now and in the lives of those around us.

      We don’t really have individual control over whether we pass the point of no return. We just still need to live with integrity in the moment.

      Thanks so much, Bill. It helps to dialogue with someone who has explored these questions already for several years!

      • You’re welcome. Thanks for getting it started. Two other after-thoughts:

        1) I think people are less apt to get engaged with ‘saving’ the environment when they are face-to-face with more pressing issues: finding/keeping work, keeping a roof over their head, putting food on the table and clothes on their kids’ backs, etc. It’s almost like environmentalism falls low on the hierarchy of needs at the end of the day.

        2) I’ve been reading an absolutely wonderful book by Thich Nhat Hanh called “The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology” that makes the strong connection between spiritual development and the cultivation of deep ecology-esque love for and care of the planet. As I’ve been reading it, it has solidified my ideas of the concept of “eco-being”. The book is just fantastic.

  6. Sandra,

    I’m not as green as you and not sure if I ever will be. Honest confession here! However the more I come to your blog the more penguin steps I take.

    How do you reach the average person? I may be a few steps above average or even where you were 3 years ago.

    Here are my answers. These aren’t aimed at you. I’m only answering your questions.

    Don’t judge.

    People with an important message can become frustrated and easily sound preachy. It doesn’t work. Instead silently bless others and remember we are all one.

    Hubs and I pick up trash on a four mile route a few times a week. It’s easy to bend over and pick up things and think, “Who are these fools throwing stuff out the window like this?” It never fails, my inner voice kicks in…”remember when you did the same?” I was in my teens when I littered. At that time my mantra was, “Tough all over the world.” I was in pain.

    I used all my energy to just get out of bed in the morning. I didn’t care. Because people like you cared, I learned.

    Use compassion

    Put yourself in their shoes. You have. You recognize people are in pain. This is where I forgive on the spot. An example for me is when I see parents shouting or hitting their kids. I was a young parent with 4 daughters when I was 22 years old. You don’t even want to know what I did to survive. However I also was wise enough to get help and it changed all of us. What led me to that choice. Someone who loved and cared about me suggested in a kind way I get help.

    Recognize projection.

    I also ask myself, “What am I putting on them. Where in my life am I not being responsible and for what? LOL Immediately my answer comes. People who don’t get it are our mirrors.

    Help Others

    I was in CVS (you don’t want to know what for;) 2 weeks ago. I saw a woman about 75 years old and overweight. She had so much junk food in her cart she couldn’t fit it all in. She had four cases of pop and she had to take each item out of the cart and put it on the counter. The she had to load it back in the cart herself. When it came to the pop I noticed she had to put it on the bottom. I noticed a silver splint on her finger.

    I was with hubs in line. I went to her and volunteered to help her put her pop in the cart. She was taken by surprise. Left speechless even. She thanked me and told me I was nice and polite. I smiled and said, “my mom did a good job.” She said, “I wish I could tell her that.” I replied, “I’ll tell her for you;)”

    By this time hubs had caught up with us. I then volunteered to help her load her cart full of junk into her trunk. It was difficult for her to accept my help.

    Next I went to our car took out a pencil and paper and wrote my name and phone number on it. She was still sitting in her car. I knocked on her window and handed it to her. Told her to call me if she needed help.

    She blurted out, “Oh honey, thank you so much. My husband died two months ago.”

    Again you nailed it, Pain! She’s very overweight, cart full of junk and in pain. Love…love is our answer.

    I’m somewhere in between you and that woman. We are the very people you want to reach with your website. As long as I don’t feel judged (and I haven’t) I’ll keep coming back and take my penguin steps towards you, like a child learning to walk. You can’t rush me but I will speed up because you provide the healing space I need.

    So I’ll end with:
    Patience

    Have patience with us. We are all where we are suppose to be at this time. We can never see the whole picture. I know this is difficult for you the teacher. However, I can think of no other way. Like anything else it will snowball, a ripple, the butterfly effect…all those things are kicking in and before you know it there will be more people like you and less like the people in CVS, and Walmart etc.

    Too many turn off the very people they want to help. I’m here because you don’t. Think of me as a bridge. I’ve got others I’m bringing across, my daughters and grandchildren for example and of course hubs. And the women in pain in the stores and those who are throwing trash…all following me across the bridge.

    Oh and I’m improving my diet. Katie Tallo is becoming a vegan. I’ve thought about it for a while…why? Because of blogs like hers I stumble upon. I’m beginning with Mondays. My plan is too add one day a month and in 7 months I’ll be there if my body responds well.

    My penguin steps will get me there as well.

    Lots of love to you Sandra and thanks for holding this space for us! Isn’t life grand?

    • Beautiful reply, Tess. So incredibly helpful. I used to be much more understanding, when I was taking my first steps. Now I that I have walked down this path of increased awareness, I am less understanding of those who aren’t (simply stating my observation of myself). This was a beautiful reminder to always emanate love, be patient and understanding. It also helps to know that what we all try to do has an effect.

    • Tess,

      I’m so positively floored by everything you wrote here, I almost don’t know what to say! I’m immensely grateful to you. I love every line and gem of wisdom you have shared. It’s all so beautiful, sensible, loving, and sane.

      I’m really glad that you don’t feel judged by me because that is not my intention. So thank you for saying so! It’s easy to slip into that so I appreciate the red flag so much. I don’t want to judge, I just want to help.

      I am constantly learning about the power that love and joy have to transform everything from you and from people in your community. I could never thank you enough. I am so happy and grateful you entered my life and feel so graced for knowing you.

      Heh, I’m not perfect on the green front either. Even if I am a step ahead there, you are leaps and bounds ahead of me on the love front ~~~~ so we have plenty to share.

      Love and appreciate you so much!

      • Wow!! What a post! And amazing comments and responses.

        Gosh dear Sandra, I am so moved by how open you are. The way you responded to everyone here is just so beautiful to witness. I feel absolutely safe in your presence. You are so respectful, and find something in each person’s comment to honor or ponder.

        I love all the responses; they all have good points. I am too tired tonight to leave a good response, but I read this post and know EXACTLY how you feel. These questions and so many emotions run through me every day.

        I know it may seem that we are preaching to the choir, but I know, for me, I am learning so much from you and Tess and so many other people. I become stronger, and more aware and connected in so many wonderful ways.

        The other thing is, that I love how you raise these bottom line questions. It is a real talent you have. This whole post made me WANT to ponder. You would be great heading up a think tank on any number of issues. I find you highly inspiring and energizing…engaging

        If I get some rest and have a better response I will be back.
        Feel so much love and gratitude.
        Robin

        • Robin,

          You are so kind. I too am too tired to reply at length. But I wanted to say how much I love the idea of the think tank! I’m sure there are already green think tanks, but I find there is so much extraordinary wisdom in these comments – all these folks would make a terrific think tank.

          I also resonated with what you’ve said about how blogging is interconnecting us all and helping us to be and feel stronger and more connected. That is so true!

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  8. Hi Sandra

    I just love when you write about these topics! Education and awareness is key and awesome! And yes, at the end of the day it may be preaching to the choir, but we each personally learn best from what we teach. So writing this message, ingrains it for each author personally too. We truly connect with what we write and make it that much more real in our personal lives.

    I love how you ask, why are all these nice people, buying all this really bad stuff…. the big question… why?

    Well, I know we each know a couple of answers for that…. I love Tess’ response and all the above comments, and thus will keep mine short.

    Let us all always focus on what the self is doing, being and feeling. When we are the change we want to see, one by one, moment by moment, our world begins to morph into the world we want to live in and matches our personal energy vibration.

    • Evita,

      Thank you for adding so beautifully to the conversation. The idea of teaching what we need to learn is so relevant. Your advice to live consciously in each moment is truly the keystone to change!

  9. Sandra-I loved this post. You certainly pose many questions that I have struggled with throughout my life. Tess-your response was perfect. As frustrating as it may be to witness-we are all exactly where we need to be, on our journey through life. Showing compassion and love is really all we need. The rest will follow.

    Keep doing what you are doing Sandra and all of you wise, articulate people-that is the answer. You all have a message and gift to share and from reading each of these responses you are all sharing beautifully. Sharing and collaborating will ultimately make a difference in the world.

    Thank you Sandra for bringing all of us together.

    • Lori,

      Thank you for your encouraging words. I appreciate how you too see the wisdom of acting from love and compassion. Accepting that we are all exactly where we need to be on our journey of life is another pearl of insight. Thank you so much!

  10. Hi Sandra, this was a wonderful post (I also loved the one about your Saturn return – I’ve been studying astrology….forever) We need to be aware that all the packaged goods we buy do harm the environment and try to change our shopping habits. I stay away from Walmart – never spent a penny there – I don’t like their tactics. I also don’t want to eat genetically altered food! There’s a lot we can do by withholding our buying power.

  11. Blogs are certainly useful for educating and inspiring readers to consider how they live and start to make changes. I know various blogs have had an impact on me. Changes made by individuals are certainly worthy and to celebrated, but our planet and future generations need more. We need to keep advocating for conservation and rethinking of consumerism through the mass media and in the governmental arenas.

    I think about the iconic tearful Indian chief PSA that ran for ages and a local effort about highway littering called Tennessee Trash. Some of the various anti-smoking ads have been memorable. The ideas of the green movement need to be kept in front of the masses until they become imprinted in our genes.

    • These are wonderful ideas, Ed. Thank you for contributing to the conversation in this way. Leading by example is at the core, but finding ways like this to communicate and educate widely are also critical. Mass media + governmental arenas. Thanks for highlighting this.

  12. Dear Sandra,
    i loved reading your post and also all the comments, iv’e read each one and will be back to check for more. i especially reread Tess’s response.
    i don’t have any answers only more questions when i see the devastation that is happing in India. there are floods everywhere, even some parts of Delhi are waterlogged, people are having to move out of their homes, falling pray to numerous water borne diseases.
    v

  13. I’m so grateful to have found this post and this great dialogue, Sandra and all!

    I live in a small rural area in Nova Scotia, a place that changes very slowly and is about 10-15 years behind the progressive views of those on the west coast, even in terms of things like tolerance and diversity.

    I had a dialogue yesterday with a friend of mine as we were cooking up the idea of starting a group here for change-makers, because we realize that as much as we can find some of what we’re looking for virtually, we also need real live local people around us to help us be bolder and keep speaking up and keep acting in the face of all the things you’re mentioning here. And we need a way to help each other work with the things that come up as we do that.

    I’ve been trained in a way of working that takes everything that comes back in response to my own actions and goes inside with them to find out what in me is drawing that response.

    For example, if I feel like people aren’t listening to me and that triggers an old wound of being ignored or not heard as a child then I work with my wound and, when I resolve that, it almost always turns out that I suddenly stop seeing or interpreting that response.

    Over time, as I dig in and work with each hurt response that comes up in me – everything from “disheartened” to “overwhelmed” to “helpless” to “enraged” – I gradually get closer and closer to a place where nothing that comes back to me, or not, from my efforts is about me anymore.

    That’s when I hope I’ll be able to stay in compassion and keep acting and speaking no matter what. And it won’t even matter then if any of it is making one bit of discernible “difference”, as long is it’s really what I’m called to do.

    I have a hunch that’s what people like Thich Nhat Hanh are able to embody and I aspire to it wholeheartedly.

    • Welcome Susan,

      So glad this article is meeting your needs. I agree – it’s so important to have a support system of real live local people when you are a change-maker. I hope you group is able to come together and be a really good support for each other. If you a very interesting way of working with “resistance.” It’s amazing to see how well it has served you and help you grow incredibly as a person. When we can take the “me” out of any situation or circumstance, it helps tremendously.

      This has been a terrific dialogue here and I’m so happy that you have added to the conversation in your own unique way. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  14. Very informative!!

    In recent times, the world is becoming cognizant about the hazardous effects of plastic bags on the environment.
    Also PLA has been used to line the inside of Paper Cups in place of the oil based lining more commonly used, create Plastic ( bioplastics ) Cups, Cutlery, Carrier Bags, Food Packaging and even Nappies.
    Thanks,

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  16. Sandra,

    You asked:
    “What’s the point of preaching to the converted anyway?”

    I think even the converted need reminders like yours. Thanks for sharing your environmental awareness.

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