The Environmental Warren

March 25, 2008

Feeling down and bourgeois. Colin Beavan, Mr. No Impact Man, last week wrote a searing post on the economics of ecological responsibility.

Yeah. It isn’t always easy to limit impact. In our fossil-fuel–hungry world, it isn’t always easy to live Small. It is easy, however, to “do our best,” to rationalize and allow breaks and cheats and special treats. Like yogurt in a plastic tub, for example. Like an occasional zip about town in an automobile. Like a magazine subscription — or four.

In his post, Beavan cites Bill McKibben, who warns against “environmental solipsism.” When we take our own lives as the truth, we run a great risk. As Beavan says:

One thing I’ve become keenly aware of is that living No Impact was entirely predicated on my privileged circumstances….Eating local is a no-brainer if you live in a rich neighborhood with the cool, local-food farmers’ market nearby. Not consuming resources is no problem if a life of purchasing power has provided you with most of what you need.

This echoes a few questions I asked in a previous post about The Beav: “Yes…purchasing used clothing and goods from thrift stores and craigslist is cheaper. Riding mass transit, as opposed to driving a personal vehicle, is cheaper, and walking is even cheaper than that. But how can I access craigslist if I don’t own a computer? How can walk to work if I can only afford to live in a sub-city?”

It is at this point that paralysis sets in, for me at least. How can I do better? How can I erode my impact, while still living what I consider a good life? One with minerally French wines and pints of Julie’s Peanut Butter Chocolate ice cream; one with the means to visit my family, who live 90 miles away? Or do I need to completely reevaluate my estimation of living well? Do I need to move to a monastery?

A friend and I were rolling over my recent post about Monica Hesse’s divisive WaPost dress-down of the eco-chic movement. She said something that stuck with me: the greener you try to be, the less green you’ll discover you are. It sounds confounding, but I think she’s onto something: the further down the rabbit hole you go, the more difficult the path. Warrens are big. Circuitous. Sometimes, unnavigable.

But is limiting impact unnavigable? On a personal scale, no. Difficult. Frustrating and challenging. But not unnavigable. On a worldwide scale, though? I’m not so sure.

Is it truly up to the wealthy, the 20 percent who can choose the Great Green Way by virtue of Beavan’s “life of purchasing power,” to make that green lifestyle viable for everyone else? He says:

As much as I’ve come to believe in the incredible power of a life lived in integrity with one’s values, and as much as I’ve seen evidence of the differences each of us can make with our life choices, I’d also like to think we have the power to make those same choices and benefits available to everyone.

I’m guessing this power of choice holds us choosers responsible for lobbying our legislators. For helping our local farmers band together to give them greater weight in grocery stores and state-funded feederies, like school cafeterias, for instance. To go beyond our individual eco-bubbles. And, maybe, pop some of those eco-bubbles.

ps. Does this mean I have to share my minerally French wine with everyone?

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4 Responses to “The Environmental Warren”

  1. Justin Garland said

    My immediate reaction: It is also the 20% of us who can choose the Green Way that are also responsible for 80% of the waste and consumption. A child living in rural Africa may not have the option of choosing a green lifestyle (at least as we understand it), but she’s also not consuming nearly as MUCH as those of us well off enough to choose to go green.

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