Consumers And Polluters, Which Ones Are The Bad Guys?
The good, the bad, and the really ugly. Which one are YOU?
Time for all good humans to come to the aid of their…
If you are a liberal, or progressive, chances are higher that you want to improve Earth, and enact clean policy. If you are a conservative, or right-leaning voter, chances are you want to go back to an era of clean air, clean water, clean values, and, well, clean everything.
As in most struggles against the “others,” even more chances are much higher that you see yourself as the good guy.
This is a problem.
When we see ourselves as the good guys, we are much less inclined to recognize our own power to influence the good. We become, as 2020, certainly saw, divided, blame-worthy, and polarized to the point where we truly believe if we just get rid of the _____________ (insert your favorite nefarious scapegoats here), we think we can all have better lives.
The trouble with this thinking, of course, is that it disempowers us in our ability to see what wonderful things we could achieve if we do two things:
Thing number one: Stop producing so much waste.
Thing number two: Stop wasting so much of what is produced.
A vicious cycle emerges. Both of these things we can influence also influence each other. If you demand (that is buy) more food in plastic packaging you have added to the waste of the food’s production. If you cannot recycle the containers, you end up wasting what is produced because it is difficult to obtain things designed to be re-used, or re-constituted.
We are all trying to be good, but the habitat impacts end up ugly.
Do the right ,(or left?) thing
For example, you may go to the store in your hybrid car, combine errands so that you emit less CO2, limit how much plastic you buy, choose less meat and more local produce, put everything in canvas bags, and have a nice chat with a neighbor that you run into in the parking lot.
As your self-image affects every aspect of your confidence and productivity, it is actually pretty important that people see themselves as “the good guys,” but it takes more self-examination than most of us perform, because we do not perceive the need for much self-reflection.
In this thought experiment, you are still in the parking area, happily chatting with your neighbor. You are happy to know that your car, being a hybrid, is causing less pollution. However, because your neighbor, a conservative, drives a gas guzzling SUV. He is running the engine as he visits with you and you frown at this. Still, you are a “good guy,” and there is no way you can call out your neighbor. You don’t want to be virtue signaling. You don’t want them to feel insulted.
Now let’s flip the character script. You are a right-leaning conservative. You have no choice but to drive an SUV because the territory you cover for work demands it. You have heard of canvas bags, but you also notice very few people bring them, so you are pretty average (not evil). You believe that independence, free will, and choice are all badges of freedom. Although you like to compost all your food scraps, you don’t want to recycle most containers, because it’s a waste of water. You buy paper napkins, and paper towels, rather than re-use cloth, for the same logical reason: less water waste.
If you are like me, these kinds of scenarios pop up all the time. You may find yourself in countless situations where you know “the right thing to do” but you don’t believe others know . The last thing you want is to feel that you have to police the behaviors of others.
You are a live and let live person, right? That’s why you want less damaging impact on the biosphere in the first place! This is very true no matter what side of the political spectrum from which your perspective is grounded.
Ethics, morals, and helping others
This essay has been a long time coming for me, because I was raised with the ethic that all waste in sinful. Also, because I have the privilege of a University degree that provides years and years, plus pages and pages, of expert knowledge of nature’s efficiency, that appears to support this stated perspective which suggests, that yes, all waste is sinful.
With these confirmations that all point to the idea that waste is immoral, I am trying to make my way in a world of consumer capitalism that is founded upon a growth model. That is, my neighbor wants his family to make no unnecessary sacrifices, even as their family continues to prosper and thrive.
Although I can see my neighbor’s perspective, I have trouble feeling it. One of my closest friends will idle her engine for long periods, I don’t think she is doing it to “be bad,” but instead, in efforts to be friendly and neighborly (to be good!) She is doing it for connection.
For most people to internalize the best sustaining efforts of Earth, and the most healing aspects of Earth, they must tap into our connectedness. Connecting with the other, then, becomes an exceptionally important part of finding our “One-ness,” that is our wholeness, and belonging.
This year polarized people. It made public health issues into political statements about freedom, tyranny, and most of all: policing of others. Enter the specter of racism, and it is easy to find all kinds of examples of how our zoonotic food ways impact public health. Everything from comorbidity traits, to people clustered together in more crowded spaces, to the kind of essential workers we depend upon, came into play.
We have a saying in Ecopsychology. It is that everything has everything to do with everything. This arises in my daily life with constant regularity. Given the truth of how we all influence, impact, and inform, all other humans by our words and actions, what is the ethical way to help others?
This is the question we need to spend more time and effort upon.
We must work together, and it’s not easy
What has happened, however, is that we routinely allow the profiteers to lay the standards for how much we produce, and how much we waste flows through our lives. Most people will take the “wasteful” path simply because that is how it is done. One finds, that rather than demand more corporate responsibility of the waste producers, we have to sift through our personal sins of how little we recycle.
Everyone ends of feeling like they feel helpless to do more of the good things.
One doesn’t have to do a deep dive into philosophy to find yourself contemplating whether it is ethical to eat animals, or eschew plastic straws, or keep shopping with a heavy emphasis on plastic.
These are our daily dilemmas. Given how much distraction is occurring all around us in a year like 2020, it seems almost impossible to think we can attend to such seemingly petty concerns, such as what to buy, and why.
Nevertheless, such decisions, such choices, are incredibly important. We are only self-empowered when we demand freedom of choice. We will suffer more pandemics, more pollution, and very much a divided populace unless we demand inclusion in the “wholeness” experiment that is Earth and all interactive Earth systems.
Therefore, let us add one more rule to the first two at the introduction, to produce less, and waste less. The new rule is to talk and to listen.
That’s it; our thing number three is to talk and listen.
Talk and listen to get another’s person’s perspective on what motivates them to do the right thing. That is, what motivates someone to use a reusable shopping bag, or not? Are they feeling defensive, judged, or some other feeling? Get them in touch with that feeling. Let them know, very gently and without accusation, why you may see and feel things differently.
If we are to lift ourselves out of the largely self-inflicted mess that was 2020, we have to start seeing and feeling whatever amount of responsibility that we have. We have to let others feel the same without judging them.
In the overall reality that is consumption and waste of our world, we have to acknowledge that all of us are “the good guys.” Then, we must act upon the power and freedoms we create by connecting to one another.