Tag: recycle

The Myth of Convenience

Atwater flower market
Beautiful flower stalls at the Atwater Market, Montreal, Canada.

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” but sometimes I wonder if we must examine every little itty bit of it, even our trash, even how we store our food, even what we use to wipe our asses?! The answer, I am afraid, is an unavoidable yes.

Why is this worth doing? Well, as Jaren Diamond writes in Collapse:

“All of us moderns…can get away with a lot of waste when the economy is good. We forget that conditions fluctuate, and we may not be able to anticipate when conditions will change. By that time, we may already have become attached to an expensive lifestyle, leaving an enforced diminished lifestyle or bankruptcy as the sole outs.” page 156.

So, it seems to me, that it is much preferable to start now to downsize and simplify your life in a proactive rather than a reactive (and crisis-driven) manner. We can’t know when the system will crash (and following Taleb’s ideas about how Extremistan operates, that can be very suddenly! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zq2_nyyugVk), but a lifestyle that is “antifragile” and flexible will weather the weather, as it were, more successfully than a day-to-day life that is dependent on large complex fossil fuel systems for food delivery and waste disposal.

Last summer, a visitor to my place in Montreal suggested Bea Johnson’s book, Zero Waste Home. I took it out of the library here in Dallas, and worked my way through it. (As an aside, the Dallas public library system automatically renews my books, unless someone has put in a request for the book, which is a really nice service! It means I can keep books for an unlimited time!)

Now the zero waste movement (and the minimalism movement which I will talk about in another post) is not the easiest thing to do. I am finding that it takes quite a bit of work.

https://www.texasenvironment.org/campaign/zero-waste/
https://www.goingzerowaste.com/
https://zerowastehome.com/

The difficulty with this, is that 1) we are hardwired to create habits, and then live as much as we can on autopilot, and 2) we get these habits from our cultural traditions.

Unfortunately, most places in the Western world, we are operating on very recent habits that have nothing in the way of a track record or deep traditions behind them. They are, at best, two generations old; and though they have been “brilliantly successful and understandable in the short run” as Diamond writes, they can fail and create fatal problems in the long run. They are based on two pillars of our current lifestyle: convenience and (its reason for being) hyperindividualism.

Hyperindividualism is a term Bill McKibben describes in his book, Deep Economy, as the idea that we deserve to have everything that we want when we want it, no matter the consequences for our community or the earth. It is the habit with which all of us here in North America have grown up; and it is virtually invisible to us.

And for all of us hyperindividualists, convenience and its partner personal comfort are the rationale for our way of living. It is more convenient to sit in hours long traffic jams alone in our air conditioned car with iPod and internet than wait a couple of minutes on the corner for a shared bus with its set schedule. It is more convenient to toss all the “trash” into a plastic garbage bag and throw it out (but exactly where is “out?”) than to take a few minutes to sort the trash into recyclable and compostable containers.

Local laws can help support lifestyle changes (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/what-you-need-to-know-about-montreal-s-plastic-bag-ban-1.4451421), but as long as we privilege convenience and our own personal comfort above all else, nothing will change.  As Tim Wu in his opinion piece for the New York Times, Feb.18, 2018 wrote: “Convenience has the ability to make other options unthinkable.”

So some other options: https://www.treehugger.com/green-home/11-easy-ways-reduce-your-plastic-waste-today.html

P.S. My apologies for not posting the past two months! It was planting season first in North Texas, where I was very busy getting everything in the raised beds at the Bridge Recovery Center before the weather got hot. You can follow my gardening blog at: ourbackyardgardenatthebridge.wordpress.com.

Then it was and is planting season here in Montreal where I spend my summers, and I am filling in the boxes and planters on my small balcony. I keep a gardening journal (not virtual but in sketchbook form) which I will photograph & post soon.

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Change of Life…

courtyard at home in Dallas copyThe courtyard of my apartment complex in Dallas, Texas. You can make out a banana tree at the far left by the stairs!*

Howdy, y’all! Here I am, for the winter, in Dallas, Texas…not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I would be a “snowbird” in what is, in the U.S., the Deep South. (The West does not technically start until a few miles farther west in Fort Worth.)

But coming down here to spend the winter and early Spring months was a decision intimately connected to a larger change of life that I have been experiencing the past year. The news has been uniformly bad, and although I am not of a pessimistic mindset, I believe that we have passed the tipping point to an increase of 4 degrees warming that will cause a catastrophic collapse of many environmental systems.

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/letter-to-humanity-warning-climate-change-global-warming-scientists-union-concerned-a8052481.html

So to be very clear, I do not expect the changes (“the better choices” that I am and will be making) to do very much to avert the coming disaster. And, though I am by nature a “fixer” (and many of my friends will know what that means!), I am resisting the urge to tell other people (including my own daughter) what they should do under this environmental crisis. Instead, I am simply going to document my choices and explain my reasons for my change in life and lifestyle.

One of the central reasons that I am investing the time & energy on redoing my way of living is that I believe that in the very near future we will all be forced to reform our profligate lifestyles; and I think that it will make it easier & less stressed to be proactive about changing before it is forced on us. The crux of our challenge is how to switch from a worldview that privileges personal accumulation (of money, power, property, etc.)  speed, and personal gratification (no matter at what the cost) to a much slower, simpler, and less “glamorous” way of living.

The idea of “progress” is so embedded in our lives & in our economic system that it feels almost counter-intuitive to reject it, and try to return to an older simpler way of living. The whole definition of progress is that each generation will live far better than the one before.  But the problem with human progress is how fast it is expected to happen. In this it is in direct and dangerous opposition to progress as it plays out naturally and even culturally. The Western capitalist lifestyle in particular rejects the more ancient indigenous methods of living as backward even though the solutions contained in these modes of livelihood have been tested and incrementally improved over generations!

Though I don’t like (or even approve of) most of this Western life style, I am finding it very challenging to extricate myself from a fossil fuel dependent way of living, and from very long ingrained habits!  Now, my strategy for facing a problem is first to read myself through it. So in the past year I have read a considerable amount, first on the crisis itself, and then about ways to avoid some of the more egregious pitfalls, and maybe even ameliorate this dire dilemma. My booklist can be found in the sidebar at the right.

The reading continues, but now I am making some substantial changes in my life. Some things have been in place for a long time; some are in the process of being instituted; and some are plans for my future. Because it is just me, these are all tiny steps, but they are part of greater systems; and I hope that some of them will turn out to be keystone actions.

My goal of a sustainable life will include new (for me) ways of moving through the world; eating, growing food, and cooking; getting rid of waste; and developing a community from which to learn & get moral support. I hope to connect with other people working through the same challenges!

*If you go back to my previous posts, you will notice that I have removed all the photos except for the ones I took. I have been “borrowing” photos online which is not kosher (read illegal) or fair to the photographers who made them. From this point forward, all the photos or illustrations will be my own work!