I recently read the classic Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. It’s been on my to-read list for years, definitely since high school, but for some unknown reason it didn’t get read. I’m not sure where to begin because despite 50 years since its publication, it is unfortunately still relevant. It is a scientific work that is written in an approachable manner. I understand why it is a classic and if you haven’t read it yet, you should. I read it in mostly unintentional parallel with several newer publications, that are listed and linked at the end of this post. Together these books help shape my current path toward increased mindfulness in my consumption and the choices I make.

My concern for the environment and my conflict with consumption has long been documented. I’m not going to start screaming we should only be organic and only buy the minimum needed for survival. I’m realistic and have come to understand the role of beautiful objects in our lives. However I’m still frustrated that so many appear to choose not to question the consequences of their choices and their continued actions surprise me.

I’m not immune! I desired a loom so badly I went out and bought lots of PVC to follow some instructions and build it myself. Yes, the entire time I kvetched that I wished I had step-by-step instructions for wood, but I wanted my loom right that instant. For the record a few weeks after I completed the loom I found The Loom Book at a library book sale and it provides plans for a four-harness forty-inch (!!) floor loom. le sigh. My largest frustration? I didn’t think to stop and think much about the choice of materials except to complain that it wasn’t wood. That choice has ensured that this loom and I will not part ways soon. I do not question my desire for the loom because I am highly fascinated by woven fabric and wish to produce my own. I am concerned with how I was too impatient to wait and save up the necessary funds to either purchase something or draw up the necessary plans and find the parts I couldn’t make.

I understand it is difficult to balance the constant plea for consumption and perfection with their environmental consequences. I type this accompanied by beautiful and varied bird song, yet worry about the conflict between local wildlife and my suburban neighborhood (I live on the edge of a nature preserve). When most yards on your street could be part of a golf course, it is impossible not to fret about the state of your grass even when you hope the spreading clover will make the local bunny population happy. I run at 5:30 in the morning and see who doesn’t have a rain sensor on their sprinkler system, they aren’t expensive to add on! I’m also trying not to think too hard about the sprinklers that are doing their thing right next to the yards with little yellow pesticide warning flags and what that means for run-off.

Like everyone else, I am constantly surrounded by pleas to consume more and to replace something that works perfectly well even if it’s relatively new. I’m fascinated by those who participate in challenges such as Project 333 and thankful for those that make public announcements of their attempt to find that balance.

I’m not sure where this post is going and am honestly nervous to finally post it and allow commenting. I’ve been drafting reviews of all of these books for weeks but cannot separate myself from the question of constant consumption and manufactured desire of perfection. Are any of the books the answer? No, but they definitely all made me stop and think.

I’m not expecting answers.

I just hope that we each slow down and think about our choices and actions and try to move in a direction that will find the elusive balance in consumption, the environment, and our communities.

Books (links go to GoodReads or LibraryThing):
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and our Health

Blog Action Day – The Environment

Today is Blog Action Day and it’s about the environment. Way back when (I was in elementary school and jr high) I was one of the few, a weird one who cared about the environment. I told others not to waste. I tried not to. I had a few projects which switched organizations from using a disposable plastic item to a reusable one. I won’t say that peer pressure totally scared me off, but I wasn’t as vocal about my concerns for quite a few years. Er, actually until today. I even have read several books about the environment and various aspects related to it recently and I’ve not said very much. (Warning this ended up quite long, and I didn’t say half of what I meant to!)

I’m sure others will write much more eloquent and timely posts than I am about to. I meant to draft this ages ago, when I first learned of this initiative, that never happened.

First, don’t think that by your doing a little bit or not doing a little bit it won’t make a difference. Trust me. I’ve seen it. I’m not saying we’ll fix all the problems by ourselves, but while it’s cliche, every little bit helps!

What am I doing now?

I try to reduce my consumption of the things I end up tossing out (and not recycling). I try to buy for quality, not quantity. I reuse paper as much as I can and then recycle it. I have a long way to go though… How do I do this? Below are a few examples:

First, I use handkerchiefs instead of tissues. This is partially because tissues gross me out when they get soggy and fall apart. I have a set of (more than seven) that I have been using for the past year and how many tissues would I have gone through? (Especially since my allergies have emerged).

I use my own bag when shopping whenever and wherever possible. Sometimes this gets me a 2¢ discount, not always. It’s much more comfortable for me, I’m short and a grocery sack will hit the ground easily when full of food. Plus it’s safer. I can carry the load in my backpack. Much better! This has, however, caused problems because we do reuse these bags for the garbage.

I try to bring my lunch. Not only is this healthier but it’s generally less to throw away.

I print 2-up and duplex whenever I can. If I can get away with 4-up and duplex I do, but my eyes aren’t as good as they used to be.

What can I do better?

I’m pretty sure that energy consumption in my apartment building is crazy. We don’t have a separate electric bill because it “is too difficult” (in my old building I had one!). I know that while we are careful with our energy use (even over shabbat), I doubt that many of our neighbors are as the cost is just rolled into the maintenance bill. I’m not sure exactly what I can do about it (we’ve complained) other than keep doing what we’re doing by watching our usage. I rarely keep lights on while there is natural sunlight. I need to do better about turning off the kitchen light if i’m not in there while I’m cooking (like right now).

I want to do better about the chemicals I use around the house and in/on me. I have a weakness in that I hate my hands and fingernails. I try to use nail polish whenever possible, even though it doesn’t last very long (buffing isn’t the answer because I want to change the colour). I found a nice colour on me (finally) but I know there’s lots of yuck in there that isn’t very good. Also, in The World Without Us I learned that many of the scrubby face soaps have plastic pellets instead of something natural in them. Those aren’t biodegradable and since they generally go down the sink, then end up in the oceans and worse. I use burt’s bees citrus face scrub and like it. I’m not saying it’s the best product out there but I like it. I’ve not had any adverse affects from the oats. So, to this end, I’ll be doing some research. If you have a product you like and you think would be useful for me for cleaning or my fingernails, please let me know. :)

I need to look into a better alternative to ziplock bags. I can wash and reuse them, but I’m not a huge fan of them in general. I need small collapsible containers. I love my lunch bento, but it’s big and heavy and I have to schlep it to at least two different locations each day, which could mean I’d loose it. Today I bought a small (1.5 qt) crock pot so I’ll be able to make my congee/juk/okayu, I’m just not yet sure how I’ll be transporting it if I don’t use the bento.

Sorry this is so long. I didn’t intend it to be that way… I hope someone finds it useful.