Friday, June 4, 2010

Choice: Oil Spills or New Collective Will?

It is hard to grasp for words to describe the feelings spreading throughout every nook and cranny of my being, saturating and suffocating me, just as the oil and chemical dispersant is insidiously infusing the Gulf of Mexico and suffocating the wildlife. When I see the oil-soaked birds, I want to cry out. I'm not sure exactly what I want to utter, but I want to make all of humanity hear it. It’s not just BP that did this and continues to do it, and it isn’t just Big Oil. It’s us, all of us, humankind. And for that, I feel such shame and sorrow. As Melissa Etheridge sang in the great song she wrote for Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”: we need to wake up! Actually, she said “I” need to wake up, and that is indeed the only place to start. All of us “I”s that make up humankind need to wake up, so that the waking up becomes a collective reality of the “we”.

Will we ever learn that whatever we do to the earth, to nature, we do to ourselves? If we disregard and disrespect it, we disregard and disrespect ourselves. If we destroy it, we destroy ourselves. If we choose to make a different choice, to RESPECT nature, then we choose to respect ourselves.

Every day, we make choices. Should I drive a Hummer or a Yaris? Should I drink out of the styrofoam cups freely provided by my employer, or should I go to the trouble of finding and buying a cup with the requisite lid and bringing it in? My city doesn’t have curbside recycling, should I throw out my recyclables or put in the effort to save and sort them, periodically load them into the car, schleppe them to the closest recycling collection site, and unload them in the hot Florida sun? And if I find that doing that becomes too much of a pain in the patootie and that my house is being taken over by two-liter seltzer water bottles, do I man up and say, okay, if I’m not willing or able to take these to the recycling site often enough to keep myself from being buried in plastic bottles, then I need to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for my waste creation from a different tack, and not buy the seltzer water (*GASP!*) in the first place. I need to give up my precious sparkly water and switch to TAP WATER. Because my choices matter. And my choices on the seltzer water front, as I see them, are either to: 1.) recycle my plastic bottles, or 2.) don’t buy plastic bottles. If I want to be a respectful citizen of this earth, those are my choices on the seltzer water front. So, since I recently concluded that I cannot get myself to the recycling site often enough to preclude having ten tons of plastic bottles in my house (which my puppy takes out of the area I try to corral them in and drags to his futon on the floor of the den, where he likes to collect them and teethe on them, resulting in about 20 seltzer water bottles on that futon alone every day when I get home from work), I have now switched to tap water. Too bad, so sad. As Kermit the Frog pointed out long ago, “It’s not easy being green.” But it is very important to me, and part of “the greening of me” process has been to realize that it is, indeed, a process and none of us are perfect, and no matter how committed we are and passionate we are about respecting the earth and taking responsibility for our actions, we are never going to be “perfectly green”.  But we have to keep trying.

Sometimes you find yourself using a styrofoam cup, or realizing that you just don’t have time in your life to get to the recycling site often enough, so you just have to be honest with yourself and admit that you can't keep up with it, jettison your seltzer water habit, and keep lobbying your elected municipal representatives for curbside recycling. But the point is to TRY, and if you realize one area where you aren’t respecting the earth, ask yourself, can I do better? If the answer is yes, then you have to make that different choice, even if it is hard. Yes, I’m admitting here on the worldwide web that I am just coming off a shamefully long spell of using the styrofoam cups at work, since my Thermos cracked and it took me this long (okay, months) until I FINALLY brought in a mug today, and in keeping with the truism “no good deed goes unpunished”, I’ve already been yelled at by a co-worker because it doesn’t have the requisite I won’t be walking past that person’s desk anymore with my tea. But I have finally jettisoned the styrofoam. And yes, I’m admitting here that it has become too much for me at this particular juncture in my life to schleppe my recyclables to the recycling site as often as I’d need to, in order to keep up with the plastic seltzer water bottles I was CHOOSING to buy, but okay: so now I am MAKING A DIFFERENT CHOICE, one that is still taking responsibility for the waste I create. No more of my beloved seltzer. Tap water with lemon is just fine for my staple beverage. And this way, I only have to go to the recycling site occasionally because I don’t have much glass or paper waste (and I can bring the paper waste in with me to work and dump it in the recycling bin here periodically, which is easier for me).

What I’m saying is, none of us are perfect. We don’t make perfectly green choices all the time, no matter how committed we are to it. I feel that there are very few folks on this orb more passionate about living green than myself, yet in the process of doing it, in the process of “going green”, you realize a lot of things about yourself, and you realize that it is a process and, just like gardening or community building, you are never “done”. You gotta keep weeding and seeding. You have to be honest and look at yourself and say, look, I can’t do this, but I can do that. I can’t go to the recycling site often enough to keep up with the seltzer water bottles, but I CAN give up the seltzer, much as I love it. I can’t seem to find a cup with a lid that I like but I CAN sneak around with my lawlessly lid-free mug at work, because I’d rather risk reprimand than continue to drink my peppermint-kukicha tea from styrofoam (and, God knows, I CANNOT give up my peppermint-kukicha tea at work—that’s just crazy talk!). Kermit was right, it ain’t easy being green, but it is a moral imperative that we TRY. Every day, in every choice we make, we need to infuse our decisions with respect for nature.

Going green is all about respect. Respect for all of nature. Living in harmony with nature instead of violating it. It sounds so simple, but it is very challenging in practice. We need to challenge ourselves daily and be honest with ourselves when our choices don’t jibe with our green ideals. We need to wake up, as Melissa sang. I like that she chose to say “I” instead of “We” because, like I said, it begins with “I”. It begins with each of us making little daily choices like me with the styrofoam and the seltzer water bottles. The big companies like BP will HAVE to change in response to US:  if we choose hybrids instead of Hummers, then they will really have to live up to their slogan and move “beyond petroleum”. We all need to move “beyond petroleum”! If we don't, then every time there is news of glacial melting, and every time there is a catastrophic example of our violent choices, such as the current Gulf oil spill, we will just have to sit and watch in horror as the oil spills, baby, spills, knowing that we didn’t do the best we could to change how our species treats the planet that sustains us, watching the oil we are addicted to smother and suffocate it...and, eventually, us.

That bird I saw this morning on the news, soaked in oil, is my fault. It’s your fault. It is the fault of all of us collectively as a consuming species. A species that can CHOOSE. And we MUST choose to change now. We must choose to move from violence to respect. Otherwise, we are all going to end up like the oil-soaked birds. Let some good come out of this horrific Gulf oil spill: let us finally, as the small yet powerful individuals we are, wake up and choose respect. Because when we do it, the corporations will have to follow. Tragically, it may be too late to save the Gulf of Mexico. But may this awful event serve as an awakening for us all, individuals and corporations, families and nations, all of us, all of humankind: let’s make different choices!

Instead of disregard and violence towards nature, let’s choose reverence and respect. From that choice, all good things will flow. If we keep behaving as we are, however, the toxic results of our violent choices will continue to flow and suffocate us all, as the oil is doing to the Gulf of Mexico. There is a beautiful and very profound line from a hymn (written by Jill Jackson in 1955) we used to sing often at the Unitarian-Universalist church I grew up in. The line is: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” I realize that I do know what I want to cry out, after all: Let there be respect for nature on earth, and let it begin with me!


  1. Good to see that you have a canvas for that wonderful mind of yours.

  2. Peter, I am so honored to see you here, and more touched than I can say by your lovely comment. I can die now! (Just kidding, God, if you're listening! I'm not ready to go yet, not now that I've finally figured out what I'm meant to do.).

    I was just dipping a toe into the "Blogs of Note" feature and realizing that I am
    definitely in the baby pool and not ready to swim laps with the Olympians (for example, "The Bitchy Waiter", which I was reading and in laughter gales over just before seeing your comment) just yet. I feel like a newborn fawn, just opening her eyes and blinking in the new-to-me sun of the blogosphere for the first time. Maybe I should have actually read some blogs before I just jumped in and started blogging, but fools rush in. Besides, now that I know what my bliss-following vehicle is, I am compelled to drive it! I'm at once so honored that you are here, and a bit embarrassed because you are seeing me drive while I still have my learner's permit. Somehow, as bril as some of my posts were and are on your board (as opposed to the many that are more rambly than bril--much like this comment!), now that I'm suddenly writing for my own blog, I'm afraid I've got a bit of stage fright and it is sorta stilting my writing a tad or two. Well, that and my current internet access choices of using iPhone, as I am right now, or risking beheading at work, as I did when I composed today's blog on my lunch break. I'll get it all sorted out, though. Meanwhile, I blog, therefore I am! And I
    don't know that I would have ever figured that out without the wonderful
    community I've been blessed to be a part of on your site for so long. Love it, need it, can't live without it. There would be no Peppermint Twist without my fave, home base cybervillage. You know it, I know it, and the American people know it.

  3. You should have done this YEARS ago lol!

    (Sprocket... aka "KK)

  4. Thank you, B! Love you, btw. I think often of some of your wise words.

  5. Well said, twin of mine. It can be difficult to live a consistently green lifestyle--there's a lot of work involved, and it often comes up when you least want to do it--but the end does justify the means in this case at least.

    Great blog! I agree with KK--you shoulda been doin' this a long time ago. Keep up the good work!

  6. Thanks, Brig! Means a lot coming from you. Aside from being a wonderful person, you are a fab writer. If you say my blog is seaworthy, she's seaworthy!