Monday, April 13, 2009

Save (a little bit of) the World

Many years ago when I had more time to be aware, I discovered a book called “the Culture of Make Believe” by Derrick Jensen. It was a horrific tome full of meticulous details and passionate discourse on the history of hate and the turning of a blind eye. It recounted the effects of everything from arms dealing to consumer indulgence in slave labor chocolate. It pointed a long and fearsome finger and implicated everyone, even the middle class suburban housewife in the wholesale destruction of humanity.

I was shocked and moved profoundly. I carried a dog eared and well-worn copy around with me and would tearfully open it and read to anyone who would listen, particularly shoppers at Walmart and unsuspecting friends that dropped by for coffee (coffee picked by small brown child hands ). My teenage daughter remembers it as a time when I made her play with wooden toys and she couldn’t drink Nestle’s chocolate milk. I was indulged to an extent, but certain information crossed a line, some of it was too terrible to hear and process, most of it was just asking for us to give up something we liked too much.

We do not like the truth. It is, as has been said, inconvenient. And so over time They-That- Must-Promote-Things have learned to give us sound bites and small doses so that we can muddle through and make a few small attempts to change things all while feeling good about ourselves.

Saving the earth sounds like an enormous task to me, impossible really to comprehend. I am only one of a several, several billion people, another grain of sand. What does it mean to someone starving in Darfur that I recycle my Pepsi can? Who am I saving the world for exactly… and is there something more important I could be doing?

Don’t misunderstand, there are many good reasons for going green, not the least of which is improving the environment that our children live in. But the most important implication in the green movement seems to me to be an acceptance of responsibility.

Because we are well fed, healthy, and relatively free and wealthy Americans (there are countries where food stamps seem like wealth), we are able to make choices, choices that improve the quality of our life, our neighbors life, and make the air and water and land a little healthier. But perhaps the real revolution taking place in the green movement is that we are learning to care about something beyond ourselves , teaching our children to care, to act, to try and make a difference no matter what the odds.

Going green is an investment in each other and in the future, both of which we are really beginning to believe in. If we can learn to respect our own piece of the world we may be able to learn to care for other parts of it as well.

What it really means to “go green”:

Where’d you get that dress!?

Those clothes on your back, the latest togs from Old Navy, Gap, Hot topic, Target. Someone grew those fibers and someone else made them into a garment. Frequently those someones are people whose responsibilities, if they were American, would include doing their homework and getting enough sleep at night. Sometimes they work alongside their mothers who are also making pennies a day. The land that cotton is grown on has been farmed to the hilt and is chock full of pesticides which the pickers come in contact with every day of their lives. Beyond the humanitarian issue lies the fact that importing foreign cheaply made goods into our country also requires fossil fuels.

Guilty Pleasures

The United States is one of the largest importers of cocoa, coffee, and tea in the world. To meet the demands of the first world, young boys from the ages of twelve are stolen from their homes by slave traders and sold to farmers in places such as the Ivory Coast of Africa. They work day and night under inhumane conditions. The majority of our cocoa and coffee products in this country have their origins in slave labor. That’s slave labor…no pay. Suddenly smores don’t seem quite so wonderful.


Most of us know that forests are an important source of biodiversity. They offer undiscovered foods, medicines and other useful natural chemicals are present in these ecosystems. Forests are the habitat for millions of organisms, many of which are unknown to science. A fortune lies untapped in these places, not to mention many creatures under threat of extinction. Not everyone thinks of the fact that many native cultures have lived sustainably off of these ecosystems for thousands of years. Now they are lured by the chance to make some quick cash. They are selling off their culture and their livelihood for a pittance. Old growth forests take many lifetimes to reach maturity. What is given away cannot be retrieved in this lifetime and will alter the course of entire cultures.

Not a drop to drink.

There is a worldwide shortage of water. Only 6% of the world’s water is usable for drinking and agriculture and that must supply 100% of the population. 70% of that fresh water is used for growing crops and raising livestock. As more people in emerging economies gain middle-class lifestyles, they will consume more milk, eggs, chicken and beef, "which is much more water-intensive than the simpler diets they are replacing." About 5 million people die each year from poor drinking water, poor sanitation, or a dirty home environment -- often resulting from water shortage.

Isn’t that enough?

There are a hundred more problems and a hundred more after that. The average American consuming produce shipped from distant destinations across the world ingests about two gallons of pesticide a year.

Lead batteries and other refuse we put into landfills seeps into our groundwater poisoning our children, other garbage is carried out to sea and finds its way onto beaches across the planet.

Mining and metal processing to meet consumer demand of goods (uranium for medical needs, metals for factories)has some of the worst affects on people and the planet, resulting in toxic waste that infiltrates our air land and water and those workers and their families that live near it.

Urban air pollution indoors and out has caused an increase in asthma, allergies and many other respiratory diseases.

These problems affect everyone everywhere, in this country and in others we can only imagine. Children are affected more deeply by pollution than adults. They are smaller and more physiologically susceptible to environmental risks. Children only make up 10% of the world’s population though over 40% of the global burden of disease falls on them.

It is easy to put your recycling out at the curb and change to compact fluorescent light bulbs, it is more difficult to give up some of your favorite guilty pleasures. You may tell yourself that the Hershey bar in your hands was harvested by a child laborer but somehow that doesn’t seem real. Going green is so much more than just buying organic. It is a recognition of the effect we all have on each other, on our position on the great web of life that wraps around this planet.

Those of us that can make choices shoulder the burden of making the right ones. This is the hardest part of the truth. What you’re doing right now could be hurting someone small and helpless somewhere right now. Learn to do the right thing. Teach your children well. Teach them to be activists and not victims so that they can take that lesson out into the larger world, a world that we are saving one small part at a time.

What you really can do to help.

Knowledge is power. Get on the internet, go to the library, find out what is really going on in the world.

Buy organic whenever possible, clothes, toys, food. Large inexpensive chain stores now carry very affordable green options.

Look for items that are made locally or in this country, that helps the environment and the economy.

If you are building, or buying furniture look for items that are FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) approved using sustainable practices. Bamboo flooring and reclaimed woods are wonderful alternatives to old growth woods such as oak.

For a list of slavery free chocolates (such as Newman’s Own) go to

Reduce Reuse Recycle. Everything. Don’t buy what you don’t need. Be a wise consumer.

Do something, anything; one small change can (literally) make a world of difference.

For more ideas and information check out these sources:

How to go green-

World pollution report-

Eco options for children-

Water Shortage-

Stop chocolate slavery-

Forest Stewardship Council-

Air pollution-


Anonymous said...

Wow. A beautiful post. That must have been a powerful book. For me, it was an article that opened my eyes and started me on the green path: me, it was learning about the harm we are doing to other non-human creatures that broke my heart. Your post reminds me that environmental issues and human rights issues are intimately related.

By the way, I got here via Carnival of the Green. Thanks for submitting this great post.

Libby said...

I love what you're doing with your blogs! just goes to show the power of one go Beth, and thank you for your comment and your contribution to the Earth.

Please everyone check out Fake Plastic Fish and join in.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

Very powerful and perfectly expressed post!

Eco Friendly Fashion by Eco Empress said...

Thanks for reminding us of some of the most important reasons for going green. It's so easy to forget all of those people behind the clothes we wear, the food we eat etc. And as you said, the truth really is inconvenient. But I am always opening myself up to more, bit by bit.

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Mother of four, purveyor of cookie dough, interior decorator, activist, expert bed jumper.