When reliable sustainability advice is hard to find, look for the people doing the little things that make a big difference.
The great Bonnie Tyler is on tour and on my mind. Forgive the cliche, but the world is on fire, and I suspect Bonnie gets how I’m feeling: “I don’t know what to do and I’m always in the dark. We’re living in a powder keg and giving off sparks.”
I, too, am holding out for a hero ‘til the end of the night, except what I dream of is someone who follows me through my day to give me good, informed advice. They’ve gotta be strong and they’ve gotta be smart and they’ve gotta be well rested and mentally stable, and ideally have the time and the means to do the in-depth research most of us can’t, although that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker—just as long as they’re committed, knowledgeable, and resourceful. Any referrals?
Short of having a personal sustainability coach who knows all the right answers, I’ll take another kind of hero—the kind who cares and does things that show it. My eyes are always peeled for these heroes (maybe you are one of them), and they make a difference to me.
I’ve been lucky to meet some heroes personally. When I was a kid growing up in suburban Portland, I sometimes (once) pedaled my pink, banana-seat bike alongside my brothers on their morning paper route. Oregon mornings are often cold and wet, and the paper was delivered on Saturday, so while I liked the idea of being a part of the project, I usually chose to do so indoors, where it was warm. When the newspapers arrived on our doorstep in the predawn chill, they were tied together in heavy bales with white string, and I could sit on the brown shag carpet of our living room to help prep them for distribution. Kneeling over the heat register on the floor, I made my nightgown into a hot air balloon as I rolled single issues of the paper into tidy tubes and snapped a rubber band around each one.
If I disliked going out on my bike to deliver papers in the rain, venturing out on “collection day” was out of the question. When that dreaded time came around, my brothers had to go door-to-door to collect payment for the papers they delivered. My brother talked me into covering for him once, and that was enough; forever after I could only be induced to collect from one house, the one belonging to Farmer Ernie.
In the early 1990s, Farmer Ernie operated some of the last strawberry fields in my neighborhood that had yet to be replaced by housing developments. We didn’t dread approaching his house for payment because he was always ready for us, not only with the money he owed, but also with a ball he made out of rubber bands—our rubber bands! Throughout the months, he saved every last one, and he returned them to us for reuse. What a hero.
In our disposable culture, that’s a pretty high standard. Honestly, a personal hero at this point could be anyone who tops my current advisor (“Alexa, can I recycle this?”), and I’m being serious when I say I need help navigating the daily decisions of a co-head-of-household. As you know, these decisions are endless—it’s just the world we live in—so I’ll only mention a few:
- Toothpaste: What kind, what ingredients, what packaging?
- Deodorant: Will it kill us to stink up the office, or will aluminum ultimately do that?
- Food: Oh, hell. I can’t even start on food.
- School lunch: see Food.
- Holiday traditions: Everyone agrees on these, right?
Even the best-intentioned among us could be forgiven if, once in a great while, they succumbed to decision fatigue. I myself succumb regularly, and that’s why I’m looking for help.
I’m wary of trusting any one source. A quick mental scan of famous advisors reminds me not to outsource too many decisions. You could end up with a Rasputin, or worse (looking at you, Iago, Agrippa, Kissinger, Britney Spears’s father). And of course there’s always the proverbial devil on your shoulder. If I could choose any advisor, I’d go for an Abigail Adams, or Clementine Churchill. Give me a Gayle King. As a last resort I might take Jiminy Cricket, who I imagine to be a lot like my first-grade teacher (strict in a sing-song way), the Lorax (judgey, but poignant), or maybe, I don’t know, Merlin?
The thing about trusted advisors is that you have to trust them (Caesar). On matters earth-related, this feels like life-and-death-of-the-planet stuff, stuff I know I can’t do alone. No matter how I input the data, my brain spits out the same result:
- Learn as much as you can.
- Do the best you can with your findings, if “the best you can” = acting in alignment with your knowledge and values.
- Realize that your best is probably not enough to save the world.
- Find a way to do better.
- Repeat steps 1-4.
I know! All of this musing is heavy on philosophy and short on prescriptives Get real, my shoulder devil is whispering. The best way I know to shut up the shoulder devil is to do something concrete, and then brag to him about it.
Something concrete is what I would love to offer, as we barrel toward the season of holidays. Even now, many of us are deep in preparation to feast, feast, feast, and as we do, I wish the best of everything to you and yours. Probably there is room in our feasting to apply the wisdom of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (in that order), and as I plan for this year’s gatherings with my dad and husband and kids, I’ll be thinking of ways to make this year’s feasting more sustainable than the last. Don’t worry, this is not a total eclipse of the heart. I’m not suggesting we cancel pie. But maybe, thinking back to Ernie, we can really try to celebrate the value of things we already have before Black Friday descends upon our better angels.
Tune in next time for some real ideas! (Just spitballing here, but maybe instead of a Christmas tree, if that’s your thing—it is mine—you can put a star on the tallest head in the room and sing to them. I’ll keep working on it. Until then, I’ll let Bonnie Tyler sing us out: “Turn around, Bright Eyes. Forever’s gonna start tonight.”