Friday, April 04, 2008

Finding The Playable Objective

I've been having a lot of trouble writing this post. That's not quite it, I haven't been having trouble writing it at all, I've been writing it for the better part of 2008, but I've been having trouble writing it in a way that's not directly offensive to pretty much everyone.

Sustainability turns out to be a hot button issue for me. I use plastic bags (use 'em twice since I have sanitation rules here with the dog), I leave at least one light burning at all times so the cats can see the catbox in the closet, occasionally I run the dishwasher before it's full yet sustainability is a hot button issue for me? How is that possible?

I've spent a lot of time feeling guilty about all of those things and many, many more (I take long showers, OK, I've tried to cut down and I just can't do it!). I should, too. I should be trying harder to recycle (I'm lucky that recycling is easy here in NYC and I do a lot of it but I could do more) and to cut down on packaging and a hundred other things. I spend time on the internet so I hear people getting up on their soap boxes about this stuff and I feel chastised every time, even if the conversation is Diapers: Cloth or Disposable.

Then one day I noticed that a decent chunk of the people giving Reduce/Reuse/Recycle lectures had kids and they'd had them the old-fashioned way. Usually more than one. Often more than 3. That's a lot of kids. In addition some of them had purebred, non-rescued pets and a few had purebred, non-rescued unneutered/unspayed pets.

And here's where I get stuck every time I try to write this post because all I want to do is start screaming, "IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT WHEN I BUY A ROLL OF PAPER TOWELS AND A NEW SWEATER BUT IT'S OK TO BRING A WHOLE NEW CONSUMER ONTO OUR OVERTAXED LITTLE PLANET!??!?!?!!" Then I start spinning in circles and quoting Dan Savage on breeders and telling stories about my mother's 9 cats and 2 possums and banging my shoe on the desk like Kruschev.

Eventually I calm down and realize that the shoe-banging approach is unlikely to convince people see my side of the story. I mean, really, when was the last time you told someone, "Yeah, I don't think you should have children." and they took it well? I'm guessing somewhere in the vicinity of never.

I'm going to try and explain my basic view on this extremely not basic question in a few short non-judgemental sentences and I beg you to do your best to read them in that same spirit.

I think we have plenty of people and companion animals on the earth right now. We have for as long as I've been alive I'll bet. A lot of those beings don't have enough food or shelter or medical care or moral guidance or sympathetic ears to listen or strong arms to throw the ball for a game of fetch. I think that reducing, reusing and recycling are important tools in the quest for sustainability but I think they are a secondary part of that effort. I think that the core of sustainability is in taking care of the beings already here needing to use items which will then need to be reduced, reused and recycled before we make more. In light of that thinking I find it incongruous (once I've put down my shoe and taken a deep breath) that people are purchasing specifically bred dogs and having biological children, often many of each, and then constructing a sturdy soap box from which to lecture the populous on how we're using too many precious, finite resources.

Ok, whew, are we all still here and wearing both our shoes? That was scary to write and it's going to be even scarier to hit "publish." I hope we all survive and still exchange holiday cards.

After 100 mental re-writes of this subject I was still desperately looking for a way to make my case from a positive stance. In acting classes they tell you that you "can't play a negative." For instance deciding that my objective for a scene is "I don't love Steve" won't help me but if it's a scene with Steve and I play "I love Stephanie" well, there's something I can work with. Even if I'm shoe bangingly angry every time I read someone's opinion about how to approach sustainability challenging their beliefs isn't useful. Telling people what my, quite possibly opposing (but perhaps not), views are is more "playable." As it turns out my upbringing and life are a decent start for positive illustrations of my beliefs on the core of sustainability. Did you know that my grandfather, my father and I are all only children but we each have at least one sibling? Yeah, I'll explain as we get along in the series.

Series? You may ask.

Yeah, a series is in order I think. Every so often I'm going to write up a sustainability story. Look for informally adopted children, formally adopted dogs, rescued cats and one terrible story about a taxidermist and a skunk.


  1. Okay Sis. I get this. I can read between the lines and I think that you have done a wonderful job expressing your thoughts.
    I will generalize and say most humans are even aware of a more green lifestyle.
    And the wheels of it are just starting to turn in higher and higher circles of society.
    That is one reason this election for President is so important.
    I can't imagine sacrificing one of my siblings for the good of the earth. Nor any other human being and when I think about that... I hear the bells of China ringing in my head. But I want to stress I get what you are saying.
    At this point a green lifestyle seems so much more expensive that one not. I would love to have a green house but cannot afford one. I would love to have a green car but cannot afford one.
    But I plant trees and flowers and use reusable grocery bags and Al Gore bulbs and do my personel best to raise a child who loves all of the gifts of this planet including three legged mutt dogs and all forms of stray cats.
    Lose the guilt about this too Sis. The best and brightest minds of this planet are always the ones who don't run with the herd and think inside the box.
    Write who you are.

  2. Hey, I know you have struggled with this, and I think you did a nice job of expressing your point of view from a positive stance. But, hey, I have an adopted kid and 3 adopted dogs, and you're reading my copy of Dan Savage, so what do I know?

  3. Oh, but I drive 11 miles to go for a run, take long showers, and use disposable diapers, so let the stones fly. I also eat an inexplicable number of Poptarts.

  4. Anonymous11:26 AM

    Well said. While I have no issue with people having kids, I do have issues with people having unplanned kids they don't plan on taking good care of. Having kids is something people should put a lot of thought into.
    Having said that, I want to have a kid. Well, I want my wife to have the kid. I'm not very interested in pushing a 8 pound person out of my who-who.. I also want a pure bred dog.. On the other hand, I shut off the lights and water when I don't need them and I recycle just about everything.
    You do your part, I'll do mine and hopefully we will balance each other out.

  5. WDSTSIA -- If you don't want a purebred puppy, or a rare breed, it's pretty easy to get a rescued purebred (or 98% pure). Let me know if you ever want me to keep my eyes/ears open...

  6. What a great cause? I look forward to your series!

    I can't muster the energy right now to write a long post, but I generally agree with what you're saying. Thoughts of animal shelters, crammed landfills and all else pain me. It's overwhelming.

  7. Anonymous11:16 PM

    I totally agree with you, despite having had Little Seal. That was a very hard decision for me, as ethically I would rather adopt, but I just didn't have the confidence to do so. But despite my intense love for Little Seal, I won't add another to the planet. I just don't think it's right for all the other people in the world to tax the system so much by doing so.

    I remember reading an article once by an environmentalist who lived in NYC and was always getting comments from people living out in the country somewhere - people who lived in houses built on land that until recently had been farmland or undeveloped land - asking how the author could be an environmentalist and live in NYC - meanwhile, they were living in a new house, on land that had previously not had a house, probably where roads and sewers and power lines and phone line and schools, etc. etc., had to be built to serve that house. That larger-than-necessary house, whose occupants had to drive long distances to get to anything, because they were out in the country. Anyway, of course the author went into all the environmental benefits of living in NYC in an apartment building. Basically the same idea as your blog, just a different part of the equation.

    No on lives an environmentally pure life, but just by not having kids and living in NYC you're doing better than most Americans.

    Brave of you to bring the subject up. One of my friends just had her 3rd kid, and I just can't fathom that ...

    Another friend wrote in her holiday letter this year about her fights with the local zoning board, or some government agency, to get a permit to build a sea wall to keep her land from eroding - and she got the permit. I would love to write her back about the bad problems caused by sea walls, and how the sea wall is not built on her property, as the coast line below the high water mark is public property, so she shouldn't be all indignant about having to fight to build a wall on land that isn't hers, a wall that will actually damage the coast for future generation. If she didn't want her yard to erode, she shouldn't have bought a house on the ocean! ... But I didn't have the guts. Instead I'll possibly enrage your blog readers with my soap box rantings! :-)

  8. Absolutely, no one leads a completely pure life on any level. I mostly have trouble with people who get uppity about what they think is important while entirely glossing over their own foibles.

    I'm almost done with the Dan Savage book and I'm kind of in love with it and the idea of open adoption and the freakishness of the whole process. It's a perfect example of the absence of absolutes. Here Dan & Terry are doing great things for sustainability and their community by not only adopting a kid but by helping a young mother and giving her a bit of a support system and yet he feels guilty that he's not helping a MORE broken kid.

    Auntie, is it still a must for you that the kid must be pushed out by your partner? Is adoption a possibility or no?

  9. Anonymous11:40 AM

    Very much looking forward to the series. I struggle with these issues, too, but must admit I have never been able to work up any indignation about people choosing to give birth. I've seen through my own and friends' experiences that the recognition of genetic links to one's children can be a special thing--I honestly don't begrudge anyone that experience. At the same time my niece's adoption has been incredibly special (so far). But either way, parents have a huge responsibility to educate their children as consumers. Not just through passing on information, but in leading by example. Given the stress involved in feeding and clothing them and keeping them safe from day to day, this isn't something that's easy to do. There are many moments in which I'm grateful this isn't a primary responsibility for me.

    Lack of conservation is probably as you say secondary to overpopulation in exacerbating the problems we face, but I still (blindly?) believe that the big ideas about lifestyle change can make a big difference.

    At the same time, in no way can I feel smug about the way I live. I choose to live alone, I don't always remember my canvas shopping bag, and, yes, I take long showers. I don't drive or have a lawn but I do get on a plane at least once every couple of months. Not reproducing gives me one less thing to feel guilty about, I suppose, but for me it's kind of how life has worked out, so I've never felt that was something I was contributing to the preservation of the planet. But you've reminded me about the ways in which all these things fit together. Thanks for that.

  10. I think we are on the same page about all this stuff. I am amazed you can write about it and not sound offensive, like I most surely would!

  11. It may that it sounds less offensive to you because we are on the same page about most of this stuff. I hope it's not so very offensive to everybody, though. I worked a loooooong time to make it so.