A few years ago, I was about to leave for a tour of the West Coast when I saw this movie about how flying was one of the worst forms of pollution. It really impacted me so I decided I’d take the train from Boston to Seattle instead. (Back to this in a minute).
As a kid and teenager, I often felt there was a gap in between what I’d learn and what was actually happening. For example, we might learn in class that there were unsafe hormones in our milk and then that same milk would be for sale in our cafeteria. Or we’d learn that being a good person meant being charitable, and then we’d have a meeting about whether to donate money to a tutoring organization and I’d be outnumbered by ‘nos’ from other students & teachers. I was confused by this.
I’m living in this gap now and it feels more pronounced than ever. I don’t want to buy gas anymore, but I am still buying it! I tell myself I’m doing the best I can (We have an electric car and an older hybrid), but I’m still not completely off the stuff. This is not a good feeling.
(Back to the train ride). The ridiculousness of it wasn’t lost on me. Frank, my musical partner, would fly out a few days later to join me and Mai Bloomfield would fly in from LA to open the shows. How much of a difference did it make if I took the train?
I felt cynical about it but I discovered one thing: I was willing to make a change. I learned I would take two extra days out of my life to get to my destination. One month pregnant, in coffee-withdrawal and suffering from morning sickness, I met Americans from all walks of life over leisurely meal conversations in the dining car.
Fast forward to last week. I was watching the PBS Neil Degrasse Tyson “Cosmos” show. He was reminding viewers of the consequences of global warming and I got all riled up. I started to think about how many times I’ve said I’m going to make a real change and then what I’ve actually been able to implement. There it was again, that gap.
I said to my husband (or rather yelled :)), “Am I supposed to turn down gigs or amazing teaching opportunities to work with young songwriters because of the pollution the airplane makes?”
He said no. What then? I started to think about what I could do. Should I pay the carbon footprint? (Btw, I did this, it was only about $5, which seems too low, right?). Should I increase my $15 month donation to TreeSisters, an organization that’s planted 1 million trees so far and is about to embark on a journey toward 1 billion trees, to offset my flights? Sure, easy enough. Should I look into more opportunities to teach where I live? Probably.
Is that enough? What other changes should I make?
I kept going around and around in my head. Deep down I knew all that was required of me was research, decision-making and implementation so why did it feel so overwhelming?
Here’s my attempt to start that conversation. I’m not looking for advice, but I am curious about your personal process so I’ll start by sharing my obstacles and some good tiny things.
Some of it feels embarrassing because it’s so small, but here’s goes nothing. Let’s start with the good things, shall we?
– Joining a CSA was one of the best things I’ve ever done for our family. We ate more healthy greens, fresh veggies and supported one of our local farms. Local food sourcing feels critical right now.
– When I bring my own mug places (instead of using plastic or paper cups), I always make friends. (“Oh I love your mug, it’s so pretty” “Why thank you”). I also often get free coffee 🙂
– Carpooling. An excuse to have more kids in the car and it always feels like a special occasion. I don’t do this nearly enough, but I’m doing it more and more.
– Taking positive actions. I notice that I personally prefer doing something positive as opposed to resisting. For example, I’ll sign a petition against gun silencers or make a phone call to save health care, etc., but I prefer donating to planting trees because it feels like it can happen no matter what!
– Writing something on the topic, like say, a song.
– Physical obstacles. I can’t ride my kids to school on my bike pulling a chariot because the road is the equivalent of a highway and we could die.– The apparent enormity of the problem. When I drive past the oil refineries near Gary on Lake Michigan and I look at the pollution spewing out of them, it’s easy to think: “What does it matter if I ride my bike, use a mug, go cold turkey on plastic, carpool?”
Or, if I look into my email inbox, there are emails from charity:water, NRDC, Sierra Club, MOAS etc. I don’t know how to show up in a big way for any of these organizations as little old me.
One more example. I just watched the Bernie Madoff movie and one part really struck me. The part where the brothers say there will be no trial because it’s putting the whole banking system on trial and the banks won’t let that happen. It’s overwhelming to think that our whole system is “off” in some way by always having to grow bigger, eat up more of the market, expand, fill up natural spaces, etc.
– This one is embarrassing, it’s the Who Am I To Be Doing This? line of thinking. I’m busy, I work hard and I’m an artist. It’s not like I even have predictable income, so why should I be the one to make changes? I know I’ll feel better, more empowered, and happy to be part of the solution but don’t Oprah and Al Gore take planes? Sometimes this one manifests as “I can only really help if I have a lot of money so once I make more money, I’ll help more.” Ah yes, this is so very embarrassing, but there you go.
The good news is when I figure out what I can’t change right now (like the fact that I can’t bike my kids to school), I can then move on to things I can change.
I recently tried to plant a tree in my yard. It died. I can get over myself and try again :). And/or I can ask someone for help.
What about you? How do you navigate the gap? Do you have struggles when trying to make practical changes for the environment?
I’d love to know 🙂
If you’re willing, please leave a comment below letting us know what your good things and obstacles are. How do you make decision and take small steps?
Anne – first off, if everyone in the world took as much positive action as you do, it would be a much better place!
I think it can get overwhelming when you see how much still needs to be done, how much our society is still centered around fossil-fuels, how convenient but immensely polluting air-travel really is, etc.
But it is important to take things one step at a time, and to realize that YOU are that one step. Perhaps someone sees the positive change you are living, and they become inspired to do the same. And then another person sees that person and also becomes inspired. This is how movements happen, and we can be the change for this new movement.
Societies are large and complex, but at the heart they are made up of individuals, people with thoughts, beliefs and habits and children and feelings and emotions.
We should concentrate on things that we, as individuals can change. And if we then make those changes in our lives, that is the best step we can take.
I always appreciate hearing your thoughts and you taking the time to share them.
I love that – YOU are the one step. And focusing on what we can change as individuals.
Thank you for that.
The biggest single impact you can make toward long term sustainability of life on earth is to be vegan. ‘All the rest is minor stuff.
Thanks for sharing Peter! I think it’s important.
Chip Lake says
Being the change I want to see. Creating a ripple. Doing the next right thing. These catchphrases are becoming mantras as I change my life incrementally. I’m trying to be more available for service, I look for opportunities to broker peaceful communication and am becoming more “grey” in my thinking. Thank you for your thoughtful actions, they encourage me!
This is inspiring Chip! Thank you for sharing. Doing the next right thing is always helpful. One step at a time! 🙂 Peace to you.