Thursday, 2 June 2005

The One About How I Became an Environmentalist

I guess I first thought about sustainable living when I read the book that has been probably the most influential in my life, Walden by Henry David Thoreau. The first time I read it was back in high school, when I was about 15. Studying the transcendentalists (I had a great English teacher that year) really helped shape my current spirituality and religious beliefs as a pantheist, also. As a kid, I was required to help out for entire weekends at a gargantuan garden my dad grew at a cousin's farm, so gardening was something I loathed for many years. I would often work in that garden for up to 8 hours a day on the weekends. We grew most of our own food and it had always been my dad's dream to have a small farm of his own. I think his inability to attain that ideal and my mom's unwillingness to go along with his goal is one of the reasons he was so incredibly unhappy and bitter in his life. Anyway, when I left home I was determined to remain a city girl. I lived around the Seattle area and wasn't the least interested in sustainable living during that time of my life (my early 20s). I did have concerns about the environment and did some reading here and there. I didn't really *do* anything to try to make a difference, though.

I remember getting interested in sustainable living and having more of an interest in the environment around the time we moved to Whidbey Island. We moved to the country, were much closer to nature, and I began to meet people who had mini farms and lived more naturally and organically than I did. In 2000, I got a new computer and got back onto the internet (my old one had died and I'd been without one for a couple of years). I began reading more and more about the environment and writing letters now and then to support local environmental organizations' efforts. As a Pagan, I began to see a real connection between my spirituality, which is earth-centered, and the protection of our environment and its resources.

In 2002 when I went back to college, I took an environmental science class. Taking that course proved to be a major turning point for me in my thinking and in my urgency to do more to protect the environment. It really hit home that each act we do can make a difference, and I learned some startling facts about how much we have degraded the earth and used up some of its resources. I remember all of the students in my class expressing their total surprise that we would literally be out of oil, at our current useage, by around 2050. I remember being totally flabbergasted when I learned that fact. Then there is global warming, energy waste, genetically-modified foods, desertification, degradation of shorelines, loss of hundreds of species of animals, etc. That class made me feel that I wanted to start making a difference with my daily actions. I began shopping with my own canvas bags, making the choice to buy locally, and looking for organic foods (particularly from local farmers). I became more conscious of how much gas I was using and how I could combine errands in one trip. I lamented over my husband's use of so much gas for his commute, although he did have a fairly fuel-efficient car at the time. I would have grown my own garden and even raised some chickens, but it was not allowed where we lived at the time. Instead, I frequented the local farmer's market.

Last semester, I took a class about nature writing and read some fabulous books. One of my absolute favorites was Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply by Vandana Shiva. After reading that book, I will never knowingly eat anything genetically modified and I have a new understanding as to why the World Bank and World Trade Organization are basically evil entities. Had I known before what I know now, I would have been out there with all of the other environmentalists protesting the WTO when they had their meeting in Seattle. Another good book that turned me on to ecofeminism (as some of you know, I've become quite the radical feminist in the past few years) was Off the Map: An Expedition Deep into Empire and the Global Economy by Chellis Glendinning. And then there is the guru of Pagan ecofeminism, Starhawk. Her ideas about the relatedness of environmentalism, feminism and spirituality match my own, and her concern with social justice in her writings opened my mind to a lot of new issues.

When I was still on Whidbey, I began wanting a small farm of my own where I could raise my own food and try to become as self-sufficient as possible. Barbara from Good Neighbors became my hero. In the meantime, I decided to try to make some small steps that were both environmentally conscious and sustainable. I changed all of our light bulbs to compact fluorescents and redid the insulation around all of the doors and windows. I sealed cracks galore. I made my own enclosed composter out of a garbage can and began taking my recyclables to the local recycling center. I began really following the adage: reduce, reuse, recycle.

When we moved back to the city, I sort of felt a bit depressed about not moving to a place where my dreams could come true. Then I remembered a great website I had discovered about urban homesteading, Path to Freedom. The family whose experiment in sustainable living in the city is reported on are my new heroes. They live on a typical small lot in the city and have managed to institute many permaculture and self-sufficient practices into their home, land and lifestyle. Last year, they grew 6,075 pounds of food. They raise chickens, ducks and rabbits--they may have other animals but I can't remember. They make most of the things they use, including biofuel for their car. If these people can do it in the city, then anyone can do it anywhere they live. We all make choices everyday and we have the ability to make choices that will truly make a difference to the earth.

In the future, I hope to move towards my own truly sustainable lifestyle. I plan to grow a garden this year, and I just found out I can have 6 small farm animals or less on my city lot so long as they are penned. I am thinking about a couple of chickens and some angora rabbits. The chickens will be for egg production and a 4H project, and the rabbits will be for wool. They will all be pets and won't be killed. I broke the news to Angus the other night about the chickens and he wasn't entirely thrilled. But, he knows I'm determined and won't stand in my way. I also plan to get a clothes line to put in the backyard. That should save money and energy, at least when it's not raining around here. My bigger intellectual projects for the future include writing some environmentally-oriented articles and a book about urban homesteading/sustainable living. I'm also thinking of doing some volunteer work writing grant proposals for local environmental non-profits. I was talking to my friend TC today about my future career goals, and I think I'm once again leaning towards becoming an independent grant writer. The pay is good, I can work from home, and I can feel good about what I'm doing each and every day. What better career could I have?