Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sustainable Living Project 2011

I'm republishing this post, in celebration of Earth Day, and for my friend Jan's Gardeners' Sustainable Living Project. Please visit her blog, Thanks For 2Day, to see how other gardeners are living more sustainably. She's also giving away many fabulous prizes!

Houston, we have a problem. And it isn’t what you think it is. 

Environmentally speaking, there’s no shortage of ways we can be more responsible. We have the no-lawn groups, the no-chemical gardeners, the recyclers, the natural foodies, and oodles of other worthy efforts to make the world a better place and ourselves in the process.

These are noble causes, but many who are the biggest supporters of them are shooting themselves in the feet. Their over-the-top enthusiasm is working against the very cause they believe in so passionately. I say this, because of where I stand when it comes to issues like these and I refuse to believe that my position is unique.

While I admire those who can be so disciplined and live out their beliefs with such completeness, there are few who manage to do it. There’s a certain amount of guilt that goes along with vowing to change, whether it be environmental issues or eating habits or spending practices.  

I am not an all-or-none kind of person. I may think a cause is the best one in the world and can give you a list of reasons why it’s a great idea, but I also know that I’ll eventually be caught behaving in ways that are inconsistent with my general beliefs. 

A simple example of this is when I go to the grocery store and run into someone that is one of my patients. (I’m a dental hygienist.) Without fail, they’ll peek into my grocery cart and if they see cookies or ice cream or *gasp* candy, I get the look of first horror, then shame, followed by, “I can’t believe you eat that stuff.”

These foods do contribute to tooth decay and it’s part of my job to teach people about how they can avoid it. But I’m not perfect and I don’t claim to be. Should I be less of a “do as I say, not as I do” kind of person? Perhaps. But I refuse to hide my dirty little secret that I, too, like sweets, in spite of knowing they aren’t good for me or my teeth.

I’m the same with other things, like my lawn. I totally get it that lawns can be water hogs and mowing them with gas-powered lawn mowers pollutes the environment and that pesticides and herbicides contaminate the soil and ground water and pose a danger to those that walk in lawns treated with them. But I have a large lawn and I have no intention of getting rid of it completely. (For the record, I don’t water it or spray it with chemicals.)

I no longer feel like I need to explain why I’m not getting rid of the grass and growing a meadow instead. I have my reasons and I feel like they’re valid ones. If you really want to know, e-mail me and I’ll tell you. But there was a (short) time when I felt guilty for having a lawn. No more. 

That said, I truly do support environmental causes, even if I have no intention of jumping in with both feet to do it. That doesn’t mean I can’t jump in with one foot. There are things I can do and I feel good that I’m doing something. Every little bit helps, right? Please don’t tell me it isn’t enough because that only discourages me from wanting to do my part at all. And that’s my point.

Do what you can. Don’t feel guilty that you can’t do it all or even a lot. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t good enough. We are all learning every day and it’s just possible that a year from now or five years from now, you’ll be doing more to help than you are now. Maybe you can even set that as a personal goal.

But those who beat people over the head with “you have to do this” and “you shouldn’t do that” only tells me they care more about the environment than they do the human beings who live in it. Most people, presented with the facts – and please, make sure they’re facts – will form their own opinions and act on them in ways that are realistic for them. And just because they may do less than their neighbor, it's still good.


The Sage Butterfly said...

Kudos to you! I agree with you. The middle road is always the better road. I, too, have struggled with the issue of all or nothing because I care very deeply about the environment. However, I cannot be perfect, and I cannot be all or nothing. There have been many instances when I have not been able to live up to my own or others' expectations. It is impossible. I think the most important thing is to have a commitment to green living and then be gentle with ourselves. And if we are more gentle and more kind with one another, we can easily make decisions that work best for us.

David P. Offutt - The Gastronomic Gardener said...

Very Well Said! I think to those all or non folks can turn off the more moderate ones. It has to make sense.

Carol at OhWhatA.com said...

And for those of us appreciating your great photos - love the caterpillar picture.

Pamela said...

Good for you and well said! I agree with the Sage Butterfly...the middle road is the best.

Rosemary said...

Ditto! Ditto! I couldn't have said it better. Thanks for this post. I think it's a very important point that we should all remember, both for when we might be the guilty party in trying to change others or when we're made to feel guilty for not doing more.

Lona said...

Great post Kylee, and ditto. I do what I can not but I am not fanatical about the whole process or trying to make money off of an old idea made new. LOL! Green is good but I also have this fear of going back to the old days when crops were destroyed. The whole locust invasion thing is in my minds eye when I hear the zealots.LOL! But I do admire their efforts in doing what they can. Guess I had to pick too many potato bugs off of Grandpas potato patch as a kid.That is just my take on the subject.Maybe I should have stated all of that in my posting. Or not. LOL!

Genevieve said...

You know, I agree with most of this post thoroughly. To me, it seems if someone is trying to be eco-friendly in the ways that work for them, I see no reason for guilt.

But, you also mention those zealotrous individuals who are so over-the-top enthusiastic that they turn people off. I don't get that, myself.

Firstly, I don't know many of these over the top zealots. Most of the eco peeps I knew online are so excited when anyone is making strides and learning about greener ways of approaching things that they certainly wouldn't bash anyone for not doing enough. They're just glad to have you on board for the parts that will work for you.

Then, I wonder - why should people be expected to quash their enthusiasm for a topic, if they're not actually bashing anyone else for not doing things their way? I realize that many people feel guilty for not doing enough, but really, that's a sweet spot we each need to find in our own lives, and I think it is a spot that changes daily, monthly, and yearly. I don't know that their enthusiasm is really responsible for a lot of these guilty feelings. Shouldn't we own our own feelings and decisions and make our own personal peace with them?

That said, I totally get where you're coming from. For a long time, I felt angry at native plant zealots and felt the same way you did. Once I learned more about natives and why exactly they are so important in the food chain (many insects have chemical sensors telling them which plants are appropriate to eat and breed on, and a lack of certain natives means death to entire species of bugs that have not yet adapted to a wider range of food and breeding zones), I realized that they'd been trying to inspire those who were keen on their message, not make me feel bad. Now I garden with a mix of natives and non-, and I've never heard anyone imply that wasn't good enough. I think sometimes when we're offended by someone else, it's telling us that something is going on in our own heads that we must make peace with. I think the native plant people I saw as zealots were activating my own existing guilty feelings. But it wasn't them that was the problem - it was that I had yet to make peace with my own decisions.

Kylee, thanks for making me think with this one. It's an interesting topic and I'm glad to be a part of the discussion.

Jan said...

Kylee, this is the perfect post to include in the sustainable living giveaway...and I clearly remember it from a month or two ago. In fact, I clearly remember leaving a heart-felt comment on it! So I won't leave another in-depth comment because I have shared with you how I feel;-) I can really relate to you and think the topic is kind of like religion...one needs to move in the direction one is called and it's a personal thing:-) You are sweet to participate again this year Kylee and I'm so happy you did! Talk with ya later;-) Jan

Rose said...

Amen, Kylee! I've never been one to jump on bandwagons either. Sustainability seems to be the new buzzword, and in working on my own post, I discovered that my alma mater, the U of Illinois has a whole office devoted to this topic. While it appears to be a noble cause, there are always those people who go overboard. I would like to recycle more, for example, but we don't have a local recycling center, so I must drive 30 miles roundtrip to drop things off. Which is better--saving some cardboard from the landfill or not using so much gasoline? I think we have to use common sense; there are little things we can all do to help, but we don't have to do it all.

And I'm not turning my big lawn into a meadow either:)

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