Readers of this blog might assume I am wholeheartedly for zero waste. That I am a die-hard environmentalist. That I espouse ‘green living’ without question.
In reality, doubt often consumes. How effective is zero waste? I ask myself at night. Does any of this make a difference? When I read articles like Adam Corner’s, “‘Every little helps is a dangerous mantra,” I cower a little and move to bury my head in the sand. Corner asked people what might really make a difference in tackling climate change. He wrote:
Scientists and engineers described the unprecedented scale of energy system change necessary to decarbonise rapidly. Social scientists argued for a transformation in the way we view ourselves, our consumption, and our role in society. Economists demolished the idea that economic growth could be maintained forever in a fossil-fuel driven, finite world. Policy experts questioned whether our current carbon targets were fit for purpose.
Not exactly comforting words, but they’re true. Science shows we’re headed for catastrophe. Though I am most well versed in the climate impacts of consumption, they are far reaching and interconnected: racial and economic inequality, gender violence, and vulnerability to disease all tie together. If you’d like me to quote stats, I can, though I’m partial to leaving more of the depressing stuff out of this post. These are paralyzing thoughts. Catastrophe? Violence? I want to hide, and sometimes I do.
I had a lovely conversation with a friend the other day about living two practices simultaneously. The first would be one’s day job: employment at a non-profit, or a community organization, or in government, working towards gradual change. The other – espousing and living out radical ideals. Sometimes I look at my choice to move towards zero waste this way. In the face of overwhelming odds, I have two reactions. Climb in bed, or stand and fight. Most of the time, I choose the latter.
As an environmental writer and investigative journalist, my day job’s responsibilities include illuminating corruption and consequences. I look at a variety of issues through the lens of climate, though it is imperfect and certainly not the best or only way. At night, I try to shake off the ick and walk the talk. I want a better world? Cool. Let’s make one.
Though I have a drawer full of handkerchiefs, I find myself using regular tissues without thinking. I haven’t found a good substitute for packaged salad greens, and though I buy them in as big a container as possible, I can’t imagine going without during the winter months. I drive to the pharmacy, even though it’s only a ten or fifteen minute walk.
I’ve been leaving a little more of myself out of the more recent pieces, partially because in my personal life I’ve been absolutely failing at zero waste. Am I working really hard to move towards a more sustainable lifestyle? Hell, yeah! Am I succeeding? Hell, no! I am stumbling along and falling just as often as everyone else. Maybe more often. Probably. Who am I, I wonder, to advocate for anything?
In other words, doubt is my new best friend. He sits on my shoulder and chatters in my ear.
I want to end this piece on a positive note, but I also want to stay true to my reality. From talks with friends, most folks wonder whether anything they’re doing is really making a difference. And it’s so hard to tell. I don’t know. We don’t know. Such an enormous part of all of this is faith. Faith in each other, in a future that we can change, and in our ability to keep trying.
I want to drop-kick doubt out the window, but I also belief that constant questioning has enormous value. Doubt doesn’t need to be paralyzing. What sort of creature would I be if I didn’t occasionally stop and wonder, what am I doing? Is this right? Okay? Helpful? Doubt helps me take a critical look at myself. I just need to make sure it doesn’t keep me from continuing to do.