Saturday, July 24, 2010

Step Five: Consider the Source

Part of the Going Lightly One Step at a Time Series:

It's so easy just to flip on lights, fans, the tap, and all conveniences of our 21st century lifestyle.  It has also, sadly, become a hobby, rather than a necessity, to make our own clothes.  The knitting that I love and the sewing that I dabble in are not necessary to keep myself or my family protected and warm and others seem particularly incredulous that I might want to spend my time knitting a dishcloth or a sock when Wal-Mart has them on sale for under a dollar a piece.  Everything is so readily available, virtually at our fingertips, and we don't have to pay very much for it either!

But, starting with electricity, before you walk out of the room, leaving the ceiling fan running, consider the source.  Some of the more recent mining accidents in West Virginia have reminded me how many people pay with their lives so that we can power our homes.  There is the environmental impact of coal, of course.  But I also think about the miners.  That is one job I don't think I could ever do: terrifying, mundane, cheerless, back-breaking work.  So, now I say to my kids when a light is left on, "There's some coal burning in your room!"  And I say it to myself too.

 It's too easy not to think about the true cost of our living.  Annie Leonard calls it "externalizing the costs."  That simply means that while something may be cheap for us, it does have to be paid for along the way somehow.  Often it is paid for with cheap labor or lack of benefits for workers or child labor or unsafe labor or environmental degredation (which may make living on the land impossible and therefore moves indigenous people off their land into cities looking for work - any work - and provides more cheap labor), or filthy conditions or a combination of any of the above.

So, consider the source when the lights go on and ask yourself if you really need them on at that moment.  If you do, just be sure to turn them off when your'e done.  Consider the source too, when the water is running.  Florida used to have a lot of water in natural aquifers below us.  We still do, but they are being depleted so much more rapidly with the growing population and industrial needs... and waste.  Sprinklers running during a rain shower?  Yep, I've seen it only too often.

Oil is the same.  It used to be bubbling up easily in parts of the U.S.  The U.S. quickly drained that resource, though, peaking out in 1971.  Now we have to dig deeper and use more and more resources just to get the oil in the first place.  We also have to protect our access to it in the one place left on the planet that still supposedly hasn't peaked yet and that is in, of course, the Middle East.  All of this is having disasterous effects: Deepwater Horizon and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are just two examples.  The least we can do in response to this is to combine our errands, carpool, take public transportaion if it is available, walk or bike when you can.  A longer term plan is to join or start or at least educate yourself and your family about the energy changes that will be a part of all of our futures.  You can start at the Transition Network website by watching their film and/or reading their book.  I'll have more ways you can educate yourselves on this issue in an upcoming post.

We need to think twice about nearly all our purchases from

 our food: How far has it traveled? What kinds of chemicals are on or in it? How were the workers who grew and harvested our food treated? Is your favorite coffee or chocolate  (the major brands in the grocery stores don't look so good to me anymore) tainted with child slavery (you can choose Fair Trade products instead)?

to our clothing: Where does it come from?  Who made it?  Is it made of sustainable material?  Does it have to be new or can you find it used?

I know there are so many questions and perspectives to think about.  It really can make your head swim.  But denying that these factors exist is not the answer either.  Being aware that every purchase we make is the cliched "vote" with our dollars, it  may cause us to rethink our purchases and begin - just begin - to steadily make wiser ones.  We can practice remembering all those affected along that production line into the product or service we are about to use.  We can practice remembering externalized costs.  Maybe we'll still use the product or service, but more sparingly, more wisely and with more respect.  Or maybe we'll seek out a new, greener, or fairer source for our purchase.  Or maybe we'll just choose to go without - that is a choice too, you know.  A lot of things can change for the better if we just consider the source.
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