I have a confession to make: I am a terrible person.
I forget my reusable grocery bags. I think about them hanging on the nail in the garage as I waffle between paper and plastic in the checkout line, feeling like a terrible person. I think to myself that I ought to just move them into the car so that they will be with me when I am at the store. Will I forget them then too? Will I go back out to the car and get them mid-shopping trip?
I think I would, if I could ever remember to put them in the car.
I like to think that one day I will be the girl who always rocks her reusable grocery bags when I just get into the habit. Until then, I feel single-handedly responsible for the Texan-sized plastic bag island that floats in the Pacific Ocean. It doesn’t feel good.
I always forget to turn off my wifi at night when I go to bed.
I wake up the next morning and gasp in exasperation that I have forgotten. Again. What is wrong with me? Do I want Global Warming? Am I so selfish to needlessly waste the resources with which I have been blessed? It would be so easy—just walk to the modem and flip it off every night as I headed to the bed, wake up every morning and flip it back on—but each day I forget.
I like to think that one day I will be the girl who is the conscious consumer of electricity if I can just get into the habit. Until then, I feel like an A1 Energy Hog who doesn’t care about the trees that are burned to light the coal that powers the electricity that delivers me my wifi. It doesn’t feel good.
I always pass by the organic section in the grocery store, eyes averted and looking in the other direction.
It’s not that I want to buy and consume pesticide-laden fruits and veggies—it’s just that the price tags in the organic foods section always make me faint dead in the store on the floor.
I like to think that one day I will make more money and buy organic—for the environment as much as for myself—but until then I just feel like I am propping up a system that promotes environmental degradation. And I feel a little queasy—must be those pesticides. It doesn’t feel good.
It’s not that I am completely inadequate to the task of sustainability. I am not above shopping in the thrift store and I don’t buy much stuff to begin with. But these decisions are more ruled by economics than any overarching need to save the world. It’s not that I am out to destroy the world: I want to save the world, but I have to save money first. In the battle between the ideal and real, I save my own butt every time.
I am taken care of, but it doesn’t feel good.
Why am I, the consumer, the only one worried about this stuff? What is the producer’s responsibility in all of this?
Jonathan Safran Foer believes that the health and well-being of our world shouldn’t rest squarely on the shoulders of the lonesome shopper.
“It shouldn’t be the consumer’s responsibility to figure out what’s cruel and what’s kind, what’s environmentally destructive and what’s sustainable. Cruel and destructive food products should be illegal. We don’t need the option of buying children’s toys made with lead paint, or aerosols with chlorofluorocarbons, or medicines with unlabeled side effects. And we don’t need the option of buying factory-farmed animals.”
— from Eating Animals
The politics can be debated forever—make things illegal or not—but I believe the solution is much simpler than that: we, as a culture, need to reorient our thinking towards a more long-term perspective. It is short-term thinking that is responsible for the profits and practices of greedy corporations that lead to unsustainable actions.
It is a proven fact that a field must lie fallow to regenerate the nutrients in the soil. Re-farming land that needs to rest is short-term thinking.
The theory applies to people as well. It is a proven fact that a less stressful work environment promotes better attendance and production, and yet companies still insist on working their employees to an early and stressed-out death. This is short-term thinking.
Maybe if the systems that I lived within allowed more room for long-term thinking, I would have the wherewithal to remember my reusable grocery bags and to turn off my wifi at night.
Until then, I am just a terrible person…
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Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: elephant archives