Environmentalism and the many other ethically minded “-Isms” (with capital “I”) have many codes of conduct, norms, standards, platforms, principles, mantras, mandates, rallying cries, stump speeches, demands, desires, agendas, and affirmations. Such as…
“Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.”
“Think globally. Act locally.”
“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”
“Do no harm.”
Despite the didactic deluge from the –Isms, actually living in a sustainable, socially conscientious way is far from easy. It is not a matter of memorizing the rules, following the crowd, or going with “the flow.” Life, green or not, is a whole heckuva lot harder than that.
Indeed, the situations in which one must make a hard choice to be sustainable (or most sustainable, or even something resembling sustainable) are infinite, each one with many shades of green and nuances for ethical worrying over. This is especially true during the holiday season, when folks are feeling generous and so looking to give their loved ones some kind of gift–many of which are not very eco-friendly.
Yes, the complexity and reality of reality prohibits any reliable de facto rules. The quandaries we will face are infinite, but here are a few scenarios and larger questions that come to mind when I ponder this realization of mortality:
- Is it better to buy locally grown produce that is not organic (or chemical free) at the Farmers’ Market or shipped produce that is organic at a chain supermarket?
- Is it okay to drive to work (whether or not you have a hybrid) if you live within a few miles of the office? Should you walk or bike?
- If you live on a bus or metro line, is it still okay not to make use of it for most or all travel to places also on public transportation routes?
- If your colleague lives nearby but keeps a different schedule (by choice or by necessity), are you justified if you do not carpool whenever possible?
- Are you “exempted” from recycling if the municipality or building where you live does not offer recycling service to you–though there may be recycling facilities at the municipal landfill or other places?
- Is there any guilt associated with taking an airplane if the reason is to do volunteer work in a developing country? And if you go, should you still feel obligated to do carbon offsetting?
- If a spouse/partner, family member, or close friend lives in a seriously unsustainable way, should you say something and try to talk/force the person into changing?
- Should the elderly or ill have be held to the same, or any, standards when it comes to living sustainably? Or do they have more leeway in order to secure health and/or comfort? (Think of the great numbers of such folks who died during heat waves in Europe and even major cities because, often because they were also poor, they did not have air conditioning.)
- If some important community service building (e.g., hospital, school) is being built in a poor village but environmentally unfriendly materials and/or practices are to be used, should that project be stopped? If not, how far should one go in making it eco-friendly? What compromises can and should be made? Any? None?
- Should political candidates, business executives, celebrities, and other major cultural figures be put under scrutiny regarding how sustainable their lifestyles are?
Surely many of you have found yourselves in situations like these or that posed the same sort of ethical, environmental dilemmas. I sometimes–okay, frequently–find myself standing frozen in the middle of a store aisle or even at home trying to figure out the greenest choice in some decision. The answers are never very clear, and few if any are without costs and consequences of some sort that I would rather avoid. But still the choices–usually–have to be made….
Ultimately, I believe it boils down to listening to your heart. If you are firmly committed to doing no harm, to helping and supporting all other living beings, then your heart will help you make those choices that seem right for everyone involved–including yourself.
Of course, those internal voices are legion, the red devils and the green angels (or is it the other way around?) will chime in and bicker whenever they get the chance. Yet I believe that deep inside, there is one voice that always speaks, even if it speaks much more quietly than all those talking (shouting) heads in your head.
It speaks…but that still does not mean the choices will not be hard to make much of the time.
Kermit the Frog was right: It’s not easy being green.