We must always ask the question, “Is this contributing to the repair of the world or its destruction?” (see full quote below)
I want this to be a positive space. I like having a place to share my adventures in attempting to live more sustainably and I want others to know the joy that can come from moving in this direction.
Ultimately, I like doing things that bring me closer to nature because it makes me happy — I know that it improves my psychological and physical health and I know it helps others in these ways, too. However, it’s important to also consider more profound reasons for making these lifestyle changes. Because regardless of the benefits, it can be easy to put off these choices due to feelings of being too busy or too tired. It’s also easy to stay distracted and to ignore the larger picture of what is happening in the world and how we are all contributing to global problems. It’s much easier to think of the troubles or desires we know in our day-to-day lives.
But we can’t ignore the large issues and our role in them any longer. Whether you understand it from a spiritual, scientific, or some sort of hybrid standpoint, we are all connected and everything we do has an impact. We all have a responsibility to consider how our actions will impact other people and our home. If we do not address these issues, they will become a part of our day-to-day troubles in the future.
So, why step lightly? Here’s part of it, and I hope to be drafting additional “why step lightly” posts in the future.
Today I came across a 60 page report sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation that explains why the current mental health system is not prepared to address the effects of climate change (see also: Global Warming Will Mean Mental Shock and Adversity for 200 Million Americans). Largely, the report calls on the mental health profession to address the lack of adequate training and the number of individuals that will be needed to address the psychological impacts of increased weather disruptions (think tornadoes, floods, droughts, heat waves) that will inevitably lead to destruction. People will be displaced or die, food systems will be ruined, and a lot of us are going to have a hard time coping with the coming changes.
There are also psychological issues of guilt. How do we feel and cope with knowing that our industrialized lifestyles are likely to be the cause of this madness and that we are forever changing the lives of people and cultures who do not contribute nearly as much to climate change? Will some of us begin to feel badly that we couldn’t slow down our consumption or use our cars less often?
There’s also fear, anxiety (where do we go so that we’re safe? how to we adapt?), and sadness over the suffering and the loss (200 species are estimated to be going extinct every day, albeit from a combination of Earth-destroying factors and not just climate change). How will people cope? How do we inspire action instead of apathy?
Stop for a moment and think about this. How does this information make you feel? It’s very easy to push off the implications if global changes haven’t yet caused you any personal suffering. It is easy to say that others will solve the problem, that our individual lifestyles are not contributing that much, that the issues are out of our hands… but are they really? We’re participating in this destructive culture and we can start shifting our behavior so that we aren’t any longer.
To me, this report reminded me that I have lived in ways that have contributed to the destruction of the planet, human suffering, and species extinction and that this is not okay. I am determined to change the way that I do things. It is not up to policy makers or other people to change first. It is up to me. Hopefully, more and more of us will do the same and the policy makers will follow.
I have my fair share of anxiety about climate change and how we will manage to adapt. Sometimes I wish that I didn’t even think about environmental issues because it can be so overwhelming, sad, and everyone seems too busy to be bothered with the news that we have to deal with these problems now. However, I know that some of this suffering and some of the destruction can be lessened if we live more lightly now, and we will also be better prepared to adapt to the coming changes. I want to live in this way and I want to inspire others to do the same. Despite my forays into sadness, I feel very excited about the possibilities for sustainable lifestyles to spread on a larger scale; I think that this will eventually lead to greater satisfaction and joy in our personal lives.
Even if I’m wrong and we are not responsible for our own behavior, or things aren’t as urgent as they seem, I love this passage I found that highlights the myriad reasons for changing our behavior and suggests that even if all of these reasons are wrong, it is still a way of living that brings joy. It might just be a new manifesto for me. I hope you’ll take a moment to enjoy it, too.
The real and most essential moral questions of our lives are the questions we rarely ask of the things we do every day: “Should I eat this?” “Where should I live and how?” “What should I wear?” “How should I keep warm/cool?” We think of these questions as foregone conclusions: I should keep warm X way because that’s the type of furnace I have, or I should eat this way because that’s what’s in the grocery store. The Theory of Anyway turns this around, and points out that what we do, the way we live, must pass ethical muster first. We must always ask the question, “Is this contributing to the repair of the world, or its destruction?”
So if you announced, tomorrow, that the peak oil issue had been resolved, we would still keep gardening, hanging our laundry to dry in the sun instead of using a dryer, cutting back and trying to find a new way to make do with less. Because even if we found enough oil to power our society for 1000 years, there would still be climate change, and it would still be wrong of us to choose our own convenience over the security and safety of our children and other people’s children.
And if you said tomorrow that climate change had been fixed, that we could power our lives forever with renewables, we would still keep gardening and living frugally. Because our agriculture is premised on depleted soil and depleted aquifers and we are facing a future in which many people will not have enough food and water if we keep eating this way. To allow that to happen would be a betrayal of what we believe is right.
And if you declared that we had fixed that problem too, that we were no longer depleting our aquifers and expanding the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, we would still keep gardening and telling others to do the same, because our reliance on food from other nations, and our economy impoverishes and starves millions of poor people and creates massive economic inequities that do tremendous harm.
And if you told us that globalization was over, and that we were going to create a just economic system, and we had fixed all the other problems, and that we didn’t have to worry anymore, would one then stop gardening?
No. Because the nurture of a piece of land would still be the right thing to do. Doing things with no more waste than is absolutely necessary would still be the right thing to do. The creation of a fertile, sustainable, lasting place of beauty would still be right work in the world. We would still be obligated to live in a way that prevented wildlife from being run to extinction and poisons contaminating the soil and the air and the oceans. We would still be obligated to make the most of what we have and reduce our needs so they represent a fair share of what the Earth has to offer. We would still be obligated to treat poor people as our siblings, and you do not live comfortably when your siblings suffer or have less. We are obligated to live rightly, in part because of what living rightly gives us: integrity, honor, joy, a better relationship with our deity of choice — and peace.
–Sharon Astyk and Pat Meadows in the book Green Spirit edited by Marian Van Eyk McCain
I live this way because it fulfills me. I live this way because I think it’s necessary. I live this way because I love it.
I only hope to do it better. I want to feel connection. I want to feel alive. I want to feel like I am contributing to life and not causing undue suffering.
I invite you to live this way, too.