Jennifer Mo is right. It’s not easy to be green.
I fully understand the challenges involved, and struggle with them myself on a daily basis.
I know I tend to ask hard questions on this blog. I feel I need to for myself and for all humanity.
This might give the impression that I have green down perfectly. That I’m a hardcore purist. In the worst case scenario, I might sound self-righteous, judgmental, and extremist.
That’s not my intention at all. My intention is to encourage, inspire, educate, and support.
But I know some things I say may make you wince at times. Is that par for the green course?
I especially notice discomfort when I write about the environmental impact of air travel. Naturally, those of us who have the privilege to be able to travel don’t want to give up the excitement, fun, learning, and adventure. I understand that full well. It’s not easy to give up the things we love. Or even to do them less. And it’s really difficult to know where exactly we need to set the limits. I know these aren’t easy topics. And the answers aren’t always clear.
I’m probably won’t give up asking the hard questions, but I want you to know that it’s never my intention to judge you as a person. I know there’s a big learning curve when it comes to being green, it’s not easy, and it takes time to get on board.
I know this from my own experience. I didn’t become a green wizard overnight. And, I’m not even one now. In fact, my green knowledge is sketchy. It’s a learn as I go affair.
So I’d like to share a bit about my own challenges when it comes to being green. Just to make sure I’m not giving the wrong impression.
The Back Story
You might wonder how I became interested in the environment. It wasn’t because I’m a goodie-goodie. I don’t have prophetic vision, an expansive view, or clarity of heart. I’m not a Rachel Carson or Frances Moore Lappe. The truth is it was due to my own health troubles.
You could say I was living in a semi-conscious light green way. I was probably more conscious of the environment than the average person. For example, I didn’t use ordinary [toxic] laundry detergent, had periods of being vegetarian, and did a good part of my shopping at the health food store. But I was still very far off from thinking or living full-on green. I didn’t pause before every purchase and really look at the ramifications.
In 2004, my health took a plunge. In trying to sort out all the crazy symptoms that appeared, I began learning more about the impact of environmental toxins. A highly intuitive friend even told me that I should move out of my house; it was not a healthy place for me. In retrospect, I’m quite sure one problem was improperly vented high sulfur heating oil. But at the time, I didn’t want to embrace my friend’s message. It was too overwhelming. Eventually, I did move. But subsequent exposures to toxic chemicals sent me for another nosedive. Finally, I could no longer remain in confusion and in denial.
It’s funny how confusion and denial can feel so familiar and comfortable. I’m not saying anyone else is in confusion and denial. But, I certainly was. So I can appreciate the undercurrent of resistance that can occur when it comes to being green, especially when it comes to sacrificing our perceived needs or the things we really like and want.
With these added exposures, my environmental sensitivities increased and I had to radically pare down my life. That meant all the plastics, polyester, formaldehyde in furniture and bedding, synthetic fragrances in cleaning supplies and personal care products, books which off gas printer’s ink, paper infused with chemicals, and much more had to go. It was a real education to see all the toxins a semi-conscious and vaguely green person was still living with. I piled it all up on the deck while I made plans for its dissemination. I’ve never been a major consumer or highly enamored of material possessions. Yet, it was still hard to let it all go.
My Green Challenges
Although I became well versed in protecting myself from environmental toxins, I was still not well versed in all the complexities, intricacies, and subtleties of environmental impact. It’s only been in the last year plus – since reconnecting with the world after a long retreat – that I’ve gradually been learning more and more.
Here are some of the challenges I face in my aspiration to lead a greener life.
I needed to be in a clean and safe place to heal so my husband and I came to Hawai’i at the end of 2009. Due to the VOG and pervasive agricultural spraying, many parts of Hawai’i are not safe for people with environmental sensitivities. But we found a good spot and here we are.
I didn’t consider what it meant to live on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in terms of my environmental impact. I’ve read that the average food travels 1,500 – 2,000 miles to get to you, the consumer – its final destination. But clearly, food and so many other items we take for granted have to travel much further to get to Hawai’i. It’s also a 20-mile round-trip to the nearest town (= food store) and a 50-mile round-trip to the nearest city. From an ecological standpoint, it makes more sense to live in a city and use public transportation. But that’s not sensible for me from a health perspective.
For health reasons, I’m neither a vegetarian nor a vegan. I know it’s far better for the environment and for our animal friends to be a vegetarian. I hope someday I will be able to make the shift. At least, I avoid buying items made from animals.
I’m sensitive to dust mites so I still use an electric washer and dryer, the former being a big energy hog. We also use an electric battery-powered mower on the lawn. There are plenty of people that live off the grid in Hawai’i, but I’m not anywhere near there.
The Small Things
I’m continually befuddled by the small things. Paper towels, sponges, plastic trash bags, plastic pens… What to do? I either haven’t sorted out an alternative or haven’t embraced a positive solution yet.
So you see, I am far from perfect and have my challenges and preferences too.
On the Positive Side
I’m taking steps to reduce my impact, but I haven’t conquered all my challenges by any means. Every time I buy toilet paper, I’m well aware that there aren’t any paper mills in Hawai’i. Rice is my main staple and I have yet to see rice fields on this island. Cat food, dishwashing liquid, fragrance-free soap… I try to live simply so my list isn’t as long as the average person, but there’s still quite a lot that travels the distance to get to me.
These are some of the steps I take to address these challenges and reduce my impact to some degree.
- Keep driving to a minimum.
- Combine appointments and shopping so I only have to travel to town periodically.
- Work from home. [Not an option for everyone.]
- Stay within a 5-mile radius for social and entertainment needs when possible.
- Recycle religiously
- Compost food cuttings and plant matter.
- Grow many of our vegetables (arugula, mustard greens, kale, collards, miasma, cilantro, cucumbers, mint, etc.)
- Buy other vegetables from the nearby farmer’s market.
- Use a cloth shopping bag and reusable plastic bags for shopping.
- Keep new purchases to a minimum, especially items from the mainland.
- Stopped using cosmetics and use only a very small number of personal care products like toothpaste.
- Books are a major challenge because library books often have mildew and new books have chemicals. I purchased a Kindle, not the perfect solution environmentally, but it saves trees and avoids the use of chemicals in ink and paper.
- Our water is obtained from the sky via a water catchment system.
- Reduced our electricity usage by 20% the last two months and are exploring solar.
The biggest difference is that living green has become a far more conscious part of my life.
I probably won’t stop asking the hard questions from time-to-time. When I do, please be honest and tell me what you think. Please don’t run away if it gets challenging sometimes. I understand where you are at. Let’s travel the journey together.
This is where I learn about the ins and outs of being green:
What’s difficult for you about being green? Have you found workable solutions?
Image: ©Sue Alexander at Inspired Type