Five months ago, from the comfort of my warm Pittsburgh apartment, and with all the cozy feelings accompanying a lovely Christmas vacation, I decided that it would be a great idea if I tried to live 100% environmentally sustainably for three months, from May to July. Plus, I could document the experience through an online webcast video series about living sustainably! I would call it, (drum roll please)… Sust Enable. It was too good to be true!
Vivid fantasies of learning new skills, while growing as a person and simultaneously being useful to humanity were extraordinarily titillating. How could I resist an idea like that? I got started on the planning right away. This was to be my opus.
Life is very different now.
I am two weeks in to the experimental adventure that I have been anticipating for many months. Fresh off of a grueling final semester of college, plus a stressful move, I also launched headfirst into a lifestyle transformation that I am still trembling from. Compound that adjustment period with a chaotic graduation day and a brutal poison ivy rash, and you have a pretty clear-cut recipe for a breakdown.
Many months of excited expectation crumbled quickly in the first few days of the sustainable experiment. The “culture shock” of trying to live sustainably, instead of traditionally, in the same physical environment to which I was accustomed resulted in overpowering emotions. I felt like a patent failure because it was incredibly difficult to live sustainably each day. I wept often. It is thanks to the encouragement of others who believed in the project that I got out of that depression and into the tent, into the dumpsters, into the great unknown!
Today is the 19th day I have tried to live sustainably. My attitude is positive. I admit, however, that I have succeeded, at least to my knowledge, on just a couple of those days.
Yet it has been healthy for me to realize that the blame falls not with me for the vast majority of “unsustainable” decisions I made. Our society, system-wide and even legally, undercuts and in some cases, downright prevents sustainable options from being implemented right now in the lives of Americans. This becomes more and more evident to me daily. And while it once nearly derailed me from my dreams of living a sustainable life in urban America, it now inspires me to look deeper for answers.
Since, for myriad stupid reasons, the U.S. is essentially opposed to its people living in a voluntarily simplistic and environmentally-conscious way, the onus of responsibility falls on me to innovate creative ways to live sustainably within their constraints. For example, it may be considered illegal to have “urban chickens” in some city districts. How, then, might someone in that situation satisfy their poultry-related nutritional needs in an environmentally responsible way? I am now focused more on researching and designing alternatives that will make living sustainably possible for me, because…
Lesson One: Unlike my expectation, to instantly live sustainably on May 1st was never a real option.