Knitting Sprouts said recently that she has been giving more thought to her impact on the planet. Well, me too. This post has been a long time coming and tricky to write, because it's a mess of different things which all go together in my head but seem to take some untangling.
What has been building in me for a long time is the desire to use less, treading more lightly - or perhaps fairly is a better word, considering the variation in living standards and resources across the planet.
In the first place, I am a hoarder. I don't like to get rid of things that might be useful. (My super thrifty, practical Grandpa was a champion in this department). I also like to use things up slowly, which can end up meaning not using them at all. I used to drive my sisters crazy by eating my Easter egg chocolate slowly over a period of weeks. My hoard would be sitting in the fridge long after theirs was all gone. We used to give and receive lots of pretty shaped soaps as kids. Never wanted to use them. Same for a fancy shaped candle, nice notepads - these things were too precious to actually use.
Now I find myself trying to go in two different directions. One is against my nature, to use things up. These days I'm much better, at least with some things. The other day I made a necklace using ALL of a particular type of bead, which was satisfying where once I would have designed it to use less, so that I would have a few of those beads left for an unspecified other project. (In spite of having a collection of many other beads). These days I delight in finishing off a ball of wool, because I know how many more there are bursting out of the cupboards, all wonderful and useful... but I only have so much time each day, week and year. And even though I am cheap and disciplined, and generally only buy wool when it's a really good deal, it is still hard to work through more than I aquire over time.
On the other hand I find I am keeping more miscellaneous things that might be repurposed, rather than throwing them out (landfill is especially to be avoided, but even to recycling - given recent difficult experiences trying to get rid of stuff). Now that I think about it, these two things don't really conflict so much - it's just finding the balance between keeping stuff, finding space to store it, finding ways to repurpose it, and remembering my good intentions. One subtlety I'm starting to appreciate is that while disposable items may not have long term use, they can sometimes have a limited extension of useful life (bread bags, for example).
There's another angle to this which is less directly greenie and more about not being a victim of consumer culture. I'm not usually too bad here, but I do sometimes engage in retail therapy. Because I'm both fussy and a cheapskate, it doesn't generally hurt the credit card too badly. I've always marvelled at those people who go clothes shopping and come home with bags of new exciting items. Then again being a cheapskate leads to buying cheap imported crap (and I'm not only referring to clothing) probably made by people who are poorly paid, and with a large carbon footprint. Where I have fallen down on retail therapy, so often, is craft supplies. So often on a work day, I wish I was at home making stuff instead, and the next best thing is to pop into Lincraft or Big W and buy a little something, dreaming about what it will become. It's such an obvious psychological trap, and even though I am well aware of it now, I still have to be on my guard. Much better to have a small project in my bag so I can do a bit of making, instead of more aquiring.
I do feel weighed down by my stuff, and want to enjoy what I have. The weighed down feeling is complex though, and it's not simple materialism, because a lot of it is stuff I interact with in what I consider meaningful ways. It's tied in to my notions of time/free time/me time as well. Having a lot of projects, materials, books and DVDs is simultaneously wonderful and a burden. I often think back to the feeling of being a kid and loving my small collection of books SO MUCH because I had read each of them several times. They were precious. Now I have so many books I haven't read, sometimes they feel like a burden. Not a really bad burden though ;)
But to get back to the environmental / resource use angle, it really disappoints me that it's only relatively recently, because of more-or-less mainstream acceptance that human activity has probably caused global warming, that governments are doing anything much about resource use and energy sources. The concept of sustainability has been around for a long time, but nothing much has been done. We keep on our merry way, finding new ways to consume and new levels of affluence, at least for the privileged classes.
I'm far from an expert, I'm not even particularly well-informed. I probably fall on the side of believing in global warming. But I don't think it should matter quite so much as a motivating factor. We should be concerned about the sustainability of life on this planet. It seems obvious that the way things currently done in much of the world, we use far too much of our resources, far too carelessly. We create so much waste that isn't reused or recycled and we have nowhere to put it. I have a lot of first world guilt when I see those pictures of discarded computers shipped to African countries for dumping. I do feel that I live in ridiculous luxury, much of which I could do without.
For a long time these feelings of guilt and irritation were too undefined and too big for me to do anything about them. It seemed almost hypocritical to take up certain "greenie" practices when they seemed like a mere drop in the ocean, and more importantly, I felt I was certain to end up complicit in some other area, and therefore a hypocrite. Eventually I realised we are ALL complicit. Unless you take up a very extreme lifestyle, living off-grid and growing all your own food and somehow manage to know everything about anyone you happen to trade with, you will still be involved in some way in the modern, wasteful way of life. So now my attitude is that small actions do matter. And I just try to keep building on what I am willing to do. I have never been one for wholesale change - I like moderation. That way it sticks.
* Mahatma Gandhi said you should be the change you want to see in the world.