“No one motorist can cause a traffic jam. But no traffic jam can exist without individual motorists. We are stuck in traffic because we are the traffic. The ways we live our lives, the actions we take and don't take, can feed the systemic problems, and they can also change them...”
― Jonathan Safran Foer, We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast
I spent last Saturday with my friend Lisa. She is a poet and one of the kindest people I know. We went to CrossFit where we lifted heavy weights while discussing literature and the climate crisis. After class, she filled her canvas tote bags with cans and plastic bottles for delivery to a direct recycling program in Charlotte. Next, we went to a community organic plant sale to buy herbs for her garden before ending our morning at a used bookstore where she was dropping off books for distribution to Charlotte’s homeless population. This day is normal for Lisa. It is also why just being near her makes me want to be a better, more intentional person.
I find that most people I admire have this same drive to improve their community and the state of the planet. It’s pretty impossible to be paying attention and not be distraught by injustices and destruction happening around us. Yet, my unfortunate tendency is to get overwhelmed and think that if I can’t compost, cut all plastic from my life and donate 60 hours a week to serving the community, I can’t make a difference. As Jonathan Safran Foer explains, Americans fall prey to the idea that if you can’t do everything, you can’t do anything.
For me, I find two faults in my logic regarding how I can make a difference. One, I hold unreasonable and unrealistic expectations of myself. Two, I sink into the cultural mentality, “Never do anything with a half ass; always put your full ass into it.”
In order to dislodge these patterns of thinking that keep me idling in inactivity, I have to be honest with myself. Context matters and I have to consider where I am right now. I am just beginning a new chapter of my life on my own in a new home with a new budget and a full-time job. Some projects, such as composting and canning foods from my organic garden, are just not realistic right now. I can give myself some grace without being completely insensitive to Mother Earth.
Secondly, I can make small changes without always swinging for the fence. Foer explains that Americans do not want to commit to becoming full-time vegetarians (in his opinion one of the greatest ways to impact climate change); therefore, they make no attempt to minimize the animal products they consume. He explains that if we all decided to only eat meat at two meals a day or three days a week, the change to our environment would be massive. Meatless Mondays for the win!
“Do the best you can with what you have” and “Something is better than nothing” are both approaches that can move the needle. Likewise, I believe that educating myself and participating in discussions to raise our collective awareness play a role in creating change. Just yesterday I sat at brunch with two friends dissecting Sarah Wilson’s This One Wild and Precious Life: The Path Back to Connection in a Fractured World. We discussed recycling projects and ways to implement some of her suggestions into our daily lives. Cloth napkins, homemade detergent and reusable cotton cleaning pads made our list, as well as social activism and protests.
Eager to put my new philosophies to work, when it was my turn to share, I stayed true to the realities of my present circumstances. I reduce/reuse/recycle whenever possible, avoid fast fashion, thrift shop and educate myself on purchases. I spend more time outdoors nurturing my relationship and connection to the planet. I prepare a vegetarian menu for myself every other week. Thanks to Lisa, I deliver my recyclables to her for direct drop-off. Lastly, I strive to cut out excess and swore off Instagram shopping (even though they know me SO WELL).
I certainly wish I could do more, and I vow to keep learning. Hearing realistic changes that my friends are making keeps me inspired. My hope is that by debunking the pressures of absolute full-assery, we can all make small changes to work towards a greater future. As Foer writes in We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast, “If we don't demonstrate solidarity through small collective sacrifices, we will not win the war, and if we do not win the war, we will lose the childhood home of every human who has ever lived.”
Check out the bookstore that Lisa introduced me to here. I've Read It In Books collects donations for a Free Mobile Book Shop helping Charlotte's unhoused communities.
Sarah Wilson's This One Wild and Precious Life: The Path Back to Connection in a Fractured World is a thought-provoking, honest, important and super relevant read. It's the first book I've read that documents the pandemic in real time while tying it to other issues we are facing on a global scale.
In this episode of Arm Chair Expert, Dax Shepard interviews Jonathan Safran Foer and discusses climate change.