Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Taking Sustainability Into Our Own Hands

I've been experimenting with using a dating site lately, and one of the people I started talking with on there said in his profile that he studies sustainable manufacturing. I messaged him about this topic, and we have gotten into a debate that brings up a lot of what is most painful for me about greenwashing--which is when industries and education programs try to make something sound environmentally better, but really isn't going to save the world and actually serves to maintain the status quo by misleading people to trust in trumped up non-solutions to ecological problems. So, this is my way to vent about that while sharing my perspective on worthwhile ways to true sustainability, available in the here and now, instead of putting our faith on some idealistic technological solution of the distant future.

Meagan's 5 Rules for Practical Sustainability

1. Never buy anything new that you can get used. The more we buy from currently manufacturing industries, the more they will manufacture. I think in general, the carbon footprint of even a green product is higher than that of a non-green product purchased at a thrift store, or better yet, acquired at a clothing swap or while dumpster diving. This also gives you more money to buy the better options for things you have to buy new--such as organic or recycled toilet paper or organic food.

2. The best solutions involve human interaction rather than money. Two great examples of this in Chico are Rely On Community, a Facebook group where members can ask for or offer resources of all kinds, such as furniture or extra garden veggies. This easily duplicable format has already spread to Arcata (Rely On Community Arcata) and could be put to use in your community too! Like Food Not Bombs, it is open source technology. The other example in Chico is our monthly Abundance Exchange, which is like a clothing swap, only for everything: books, furniture, toys, art, etc. People bring whatever they don't want anymore, and anyone can take anything regardless of how much stuff they brought. Community members take turns hosting this in their yard by coordinating through Facebook. One of the most beautiful, culture-shifting moments I have seen from this event is when passersby stop, thinking it's a yard sale, and ask how much something is, only to be told everything is free. This really warms my heart. Leftovers are also donated to a thrift store or homeless resource centers. This also embodies a permaculture principle by stacking functions: free "shopping" also becomes a social event, meeting needs for connection and fun.

3. If you want to help the Earth, spend time in Nature. Sustainability seems to get watered-down and abstract in artificial settings. Some so-called sustainability experts or scholars are focused so much on statistics and projections and economics, that the idea of sustainability gets divorced from anything that can actually help the Earth regenerate resilient biodiversity. This is my opportunity to give credit where credit is due: I got the idea for this blog from a place near my house where I go to connect with Nature. There are plants and logs and rocks there, who listened to me vent and then suggested this blog. I thank them. Nature is not only inspiring though, being in connection with nonhuman beings helps us cultivate empathy for them that many participants in industry and consumerism sorely lack. It reminds us that Nature is not an abstraction, but a community of sentient beings.

4. Do things on a human scale. This is stolen directly from the permaculture principle list. It means that we humans need to be more humble, and limit ourselves to activities and projects where we can more easily see all the long-term consequences. For example, only making changes to our environment that will go back to nature within our lifetimes, or only using technology that is human powered as much as possible, such as bicycles instead of cars, hand-powered egg-beaters and nutcrackers and cherry-pitters, etc. (You can also make bike machines that do these tasks much more efficiently, on zero fuel, and you get a work out).

5. Empathize with self and other. Sadly, this is a principle I did not have the inner resources to apply during the conversation with above-mentioned user of internet dating site. I was agitated upon receiving his messages and responded with reactivity instead of thoughtfulness and the patience that it takes to cultivate mutual understanding in the presence of disparate worldviews. However, I cannot see how we will create a sustainable society without empathy. When people get into "rational" arguments and say things like, "Don't be emotional," they are usually in one of their most emotional states of mind, and are refusing to acknowledge the impact or wisdom of our feelings on why and how we make decisions. It is cliché at this point, but we can always honor the values and needs behind someone's political or economical strategy, even while disagreeing on those strategies, and this makes a more peaceful society by staying connected to each other's humanity.

On this note, I am currently starting a new NVC practice group that will meet to practice just this--having conversations with those who we don't see eye to eye with, seeking understanding and mutual respect without having to agree, and being heard in a way that cultivates trust across party lines--or even intra-party lines. If you would like to be a part of this project, which I'm calling The Edge Effect, please contact me at

What about you? What rules do you have for yourself for practical sustainability? I know I missed a few, or probably many, that I would happily include on this list. Please share in the comments :)

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