Thursday, April 22, 2010

electricity doesn't come from a socket

Today is Earth Day! I am feeling very much in the mood as I've been reading Twelve By Twelve: A one-room cabin off the grid & beyond the American Dream by William Powers. I picked it up at St. Mark's Bookshop Monday night when I stopped in to hound the consignment guy to get my Brownstones book on the shelves (due to its small size it had gotten lost in the consignment box). The title is pretty self-explanatory, but I have to say that the book is even better than I'd anticipated. One of my favorite passages so far is this one:
I remembered that electricity doesn't come from a socket; tomatoes don't come from the supermarket; water doesn't come from a pipe. Everything comes from the earth. It's fine to grasp this intellectually, but to once again touch, breathe, and eat this reality feels like reconciliation with a loved one after a long feud.
 I like how Powers points out that knowing something intellectually and actually recognizing the reality of it are different things. I've been trying a lot recently to try and live my life in a more eco-friendly way, but so far it's been mostly an intellectual realization. After I read No Impact Man by Colin Beavan I had this intense desire to walk or ride a bike everywhere, until I realized that living in the suburbs doesn't exactly make that possible. There are lots of streets—busy streets—that don't have sidewalks; long, winding hills that make riding a bike take much longer than simply hopping in the car; and a downtown that only has restaurants and fancy stores, but no stores that I would actually shop at. I realized that never again using a car would just not be possible, at least at this point in my life.

As I read the first part of The Omnivore's Dilemma and now 12x12, I'm starting to have a crisis of conscious about the food that I eat (How did this food get to me? Was it produced in a way that was not harmful to the environment or the people who harvested it?) and the clothes that I wear (sure they are good quality and I probably got them on sale, but is that really worth the lives of the children and adults half way around the world spending their lives in sweatshops working for pennies an hour?). It's becoming a problem.

One thing Powers says in his book is "Gandhi was incredibly clear: changing yourself is the key; no external achievements, however noble, can replace that." He's referencing how Gandhi gradually became the man that we all know him as. He didn't start out that way. First he educated himself about the state of the world around him, then he made decisions about what he thought was right and wrong, and only then did he alter his lifestyle so that it would be in accordance with that which he thought was right. The hardest part for me is the final step. I know that driving cars is bad for the environment, but I sometimes I have to drive one. I know that I should try and create less waste, but it's difficult when everything I normally buy is wrapped in excess packaging and/or creating specifically to be disposable. Also when I'm living at home, not on my own where these changes would be easier to make because I am in charge and just one person, not an entire household.

Today I did a lot of walking. I walked to my 8 am dermatologist appointment which made it about a 20 minute walk as opposed to a 5 minute drive (and also made me feel a bit like Jim Halpert when he decides to start biking to work, not realizing that it will make him really, really sweaty). After the appointment I walked to CVS to get my prescriptions filled. Then on a whim I stopped at the library on the way home and checked out some books I've been meaning to read for some time now (among them, Jack Kerouac's On The Road). As I walked home I seemed to be aware for the first time at how concealed the ground is in my neighborhood. I'd always thought of the east coast as lush and green and full of trees, things that I missed constantly as I attended University in the desert. However, the grass and trees that I remembered as being everywhere all of a sudden were crammed between concrete sidewalks and asphalt roads. Lawns are landscaped within inches of their lives, and all of it seemed somehow false. I still love trees: every time I see a particularly pretty or quirky or beautiful tree I unconsciously smile to myself (and think of Jen Porter). But today walking home in the brisk early Spring air, it seemed to be missing something...

The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970. Prior to it celebration, Gladwin Hill (amazing name, right?) wrote an article for the New York Times where he said, "Rising concern about the 'environmental crisis' is sweeping the nation's campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam." Hopefully this Earth Day we can try to let concern for the environment and its inhabitants overpower our love of consumerism and instant gratification, just like Americans in the 70s let love of the earth trump love of war.


Charles the Cat said...

This post is my favorite.

On the topic of the difference between intellectual knowledge, and practical reality, Rabindranath Tagore had this to say, when describing the school that he ran.

"I well remember the surprise and annoyance of an experienced headmaster, reputed to be a successful disciplinarian, when he saw a boy of my school climbing a tree and choosing a fork of the branches for settling down to his studies... ...what is surprising is to notice the same headmaster's approbation of the boys' studying Botany. He believes in an impersonal knowledge of the tree, because that is science, but not in a personal experience of it."

And don't we need a personal experience of something to love it?

steph goodson said...

cassi, you are an AMAZING writer! true story. Also I just love you. Go earth day!