Browngirl Going Green

The Big Question
February 5, 2010, 10:07 pm
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To me, the biggest question in our efforts to ‘go green’, to save the planet from utter destruction, to salvage as much as possible of our home as we can from the slow juggernaut of climate change, is whether modern human civilization can become truly sustainable. In other words, is our very existence on this planet a giant contradiction, a humongous, neon-red, flashing exclamation point on the long timeline of Earth’s history? Are WE the ones that need to get out of our own way?

Most people who say they care about the environment would say that, Yes, we as humans are  largely responsible for all the crap that the planet is going through right now. The laundry list is familiar and long, and includes everything from our fossil fuel-based economy to over-mining for minerals and metals to overpopulation and industrialized agriculture that depletes the soil and pollutes our waters.

So the real dilemma is, What do we have to change about our modern lives to stave off worldwide destruction of the very planet that’s birthed, fed and sheltered us our whole lives? I’m not convinced that composting, recycling, hybrid cars, carbon offsets, or even passing federal or international policies are enough. These are all pieces of a much larger paradigm shift that needs to happen, which is that our entire modern lifestyle needs to change, especially in the Global North, where we consume many times more resources (and create that much more waste and toxic pollution) than people in the Global South do.

This ‘big change’ will mean giving up a lot of things that most Americans take for granted as basic needs. We will have to learn how to share nearly everything we currently have with more than just one person (e.g. husband/wife, partner, lover, etc.) or our nuclear families. We’ll have to share our homes, land, food and water, as well as things like child-rearing duties, work, decision-making powers, cultures and ideas. Sharing MUST become the basis of any new civilization that we build. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited about Shareable, an online publication that highlights some of the sharing projects happening in the United States and other places.

For many Americans—especially those that are wealthier or have grown accustomed to living a very individualized lifestyle (I include myself in the latter group)—this will be difficult. We’re used to having things that are ‘mine’ or ‘ours’ in the exclusive sense, not ‘ours’ in the broader collective sense. We don’t really know how to negotiate well when things don’t go our way, judging from the various wars of colonization, exploitation and genocide our country has either waged directly or tacitly condoned. We’re not very familiar as a nation with the concept of the ‘Commons’, which my friend and mentor Kim Klein blogs about, but we will need to in order to create a more shareable society. And we’re not that great about living and sharing with different kinds of people, although we’re getting better I think.

We will also need to get our hands dirty (literally) and learn how to live in a more natural way. This doesn’t just mean composting or planting vegetables. It will making do with less clean water for luxurious purposes like taking showers several times a day or washing our clothes frequently. It will mean having less antiseptics for cleansing our hands after we’ve ridden on public transit, which will in turn mean that our immune systems will have to start functioning better and not be so reliant on chemical protection. Not eating as much, probably, and not eating anything we want at any time of the day, night or season. The list goes on and on.

In the next post, I’ll write about the positive side of this sustainability sacrifice. But in the meantime, what are you willing to give up—or not give up—to help make life on this planet more sustainable?