Like pretty much everyone else in the world I have become increasingly aware of environmental issues in the past few years. I use words like ‘carbon footprint’ and ‘food miles’ in my daily life. I think about how that Cinderella cake topper will persist in the environment forever, along with its hormone disruptors and its potentially carcinogenic components. I’ve been feeling concerned, and I wanted to take action.
I started small. I started spending my money more selectively, buying second-hand items, re-using what I could, reducing my overall consumption. We compost and recycle. I’m growing food in my garden, I belong to a buying club that carries locally grown organic food, and I visit my local farmer’s market. I cloth diaper and breastfeed. I buy products in bulk or choose items that come with less packaging. I carry re-usable shopping bags everywhere I go.
These are all good things. And lots of people will tell you that even these small steps can make a big difference. It felt good to me to make them. I felt a little self-satisfied thrill when I took out my compost, ate a local meal, or hung the cloth diapers outside to dry.
But then I read Ecoholic by Adria Vasil. And the enormity of the situation began to dawn on me. It’s well and good to reduce our consumption, but it only delays the inevitable. If we keep using our resources at unsustainable levels, we will run out. As I examined my life I began to feel as if everything I do is harmful. The waterproof covers on my cloth diapers may be toxic. The plastic that I so diligently recycle is poisoning people halfway around the world. The computer that I’m using is chock full of harmful chemicals and running on electricity that may come from burning fossil fuels. It left me feeling overwhelmed and sort of hopeless.
This is where I’m sitting now. Wondering if my actions even matter in the face of all the plastic in our oceans. Feeling helpless when I learn that frogs are disappearing at alarming rates. I don’t have a good solution. I tell myself that maybe what it takes is just lots of individuals doing small things, raising their own awareness. That I don’t need to solve all the world’s problems single-handedly. That my despair does no one any good. Some days I believe that, some days not so much.
I know I’m not the only one who feels very small in the face of very big problems. We all have our own methods of handling it. Some of them work some of the time, some not so much. Right now my old methods aren’t working, and so I’m at a loss. I would really prefer to maintain my optimism, because I think that feeling overwhelmed is rarely helpful. So I’d like to hear how you handle it. How do you face big problems like the environment or poverty? How do you maintain perspective?