30 December 2019

Confession, Lament, Hope

The truth is, I'm not very good at living sustainably.

I haven't written a blog post in over two years. Partly I was feeling like a fraud, talking about sustainability while painfully aware of the ways we were not living up to the ideal. Partly, I looked at the state of the world and just lost heart.

First to the issue of not living up to my own standards: A couple of years back Tyson and I were getting invited to be guest speakers on sustainability. I would see people's eyes lighting up at the opportunities to do simple things that make the world better. Yet I knew we were not at all the sustainable living role models we were being portrayed as. A couple of people visited our home because they wanted to 'see how we live' - I think they might have been disappointed.

Other friends felt guilty in response to what I wrote. The blog was intended to inspire people with how possible and attainable change was, but instead it was making people feel bad about how much they were not doing. Finally, it even had that effect on me: my own past enthusiasm, optimism and action made me feel guilty about how poorly I believed I was following through, and how much I hadn't done at all. The area that I really feel we do badly on is plastics. I read inspiring rubbish-free articles and know how much packaging we throw away, even if much of it goes into recycling. As the months without a post stretched out, even the blog felt like a sustainability action I had failed at. Below, I have put a list of all the 'small steps' I have posted on the blog in the past, to come clean on which we are still doing at all, a little, or not. 

But the greater reason my blog writing stopped was a creeping sense of despair. Climate change is no longer a thing we are working to avoid; it is a present reality that we are learning (maybe) to survive. And parallel to our world being literally on fire, political leadership seems to be turning away from environmental reality, away from the common good, away from global cooperation, creativity, innovation and radical world-saving action.

Greta Thunberg has said she doesn't want people to feel hopeful, but to feel the fear she feels, to panic, and so to act. Unfortunately, a lack of hope has had the opposite effect on me. Something like: If its all falling apart anyway, why knock myself out trying so hard to live efficiently? Why not just enjoy what we have until its gone? Not that I've suddenly bought a jet ski and taken up random acts of environmental violence. But I haven't been trying all that hard to keep doing what we are doing, and we have pretty much stopped taking on new sustainability commitments. I feel your fear, Greta, and all those who share your voice; I wake up in the night terrified that I am not teaching my children skills to survive a post-societal collapse (because I don't have those skills), that I am handing on to them less than nothing. And mostly it leaves me curled in a ball in the dark longing for morning, when routine normalcy blanks out the terror long enough to get on with things.

In my tradition, December is a time to pay attention to waiting, hoping, longing for a better world - an Advent season of reflection. This Advent I set myself to actively seeking hope. Tyson drew my attention to the work of Rebecca Solnit. In particular, her concept of hope as the tool with which to enact desperate change, not a sleeping pill to make you feel better about someone coming to rescue you. In her words: 'Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency'. 

I need to believe global collapse is not inevitable. And that even in a global collapse, human beings would still be the mix of love and hate, kindness and self-interest, fear and joy, creativity and intransigence that we have now, and would make a way forward. I do not instinctively trust that this is true, but I am teaching myself to hold it as true, because I need to in order to do anything useful. This is the hope with which I intend to hammer at the imprisoning doors of the climate emergency.

I am also finding that I cannot hope unless I also lament. Lament is the honest recognition that things are not as we desire. Hiding in the night with my fears entraps me. In contrast, it is surprisingly freeing to turn my face to the torrent of things going wrong and saying I see you. I know you are terrible. I weep for all the ways humans are failing our beloved earth. 

I lament my own failure to live as sustainably as I desire. Rebecca Solnit has something to say there too: 'Perfection is a stick with which to beat the possible'. The audit of actions below is my lament, and also my celebration of the ways we are making an effort. A small effort. Very, very small steps. They might not be enough, but if I stop because I am not doing it perfectly, or lose hope in the potential for a better world, I have beaten the possibility of change to death with my perfectionism and my despair.

Paying attention to hope through Advent has also given me tiny moments of discovering it. Oddly, the eastern seaboard being blanketed in bushfire smoke for weeks gave me hope: after despairing at how many Australians were ignoring the impact of climate change, now no-one could ignore it - they were breathing it in. (I live in Perth; I may have felt less hopeful if I was choking on that insidious climate-change messenger myself). Compared to ten years ago when I began this blog, the conversation about climate change has moved astonishingly. I can focus on the not enough part of that story, or I can hang on to how far public opinion has moved. (A study of 50,000 Australians in 2019 found that 72% were worried about climate change). Although when I watched the film 2040 earlier in the year I came out feeling we were all doomed because the ideas presented were so far from enough, on reflection the diversity of innovative technologies and attitude changes that the movie opened up does give me hope. Humans are a remarkably resourceful, creative and adaptive species and we have what it takes to survive, even to thrive, and possibly to steer the world away from climate disaster.

I am discovering that hope is a discipline, from which life and joy can grow. I can't teach my children indigenous bush skills or urban guerilla survival, but I can teach them hope. I can't I can't I can't is easy to list and that is my lament. But I am learning to pay attention to what I can.

One thing I can do is write. And take pictures. So maybe in 2020 I will return to blogging. Or maybe this is a farewell post and my 'I can' will be in other directions. 


Small Steps Action Audit December 2019

Things we have given away entirely

Grey water irrigation
recycling water using buckets including toilet flushing with recycled water (This was given away one winter when we were perpetually sick and I put it down to buckets of grey water sitting around)
Worm farm (We kept killing them in the heat)
farmers' market
carrying stuff on bikes (This largely died away when we had two children to transport, neither of them able to ride for themselves. They can both ride well now. We haven't got back to carting much)
returning packaging (linked to farmers' market, which became a hassle to get to on a Saturday)
grey water wheelie bin
write the blog (until today)
green printing for work projects (the green printer was so slow turning orders around that I gave up; I tried a local independent and their print quality was hopeless; recently I resorted to a mainstream local printer)
blanket pelments
giving away to prepare for Christmas/ birthdays
bottling tomatoes
byo plates/ cutlery
reusable barrier bags
using the tip shop

Things we do sometimes, partially, or not as described

Cloth nappies (We kept this up for years but our second child had terrible nappy rash so we gave it away when he was about two. Then he took a long time to toilet train, so we used a lot of disposables; cloth wipes were more successful with the second child)
Heat barrier curtain (Still there, but our guinea pigs are in the laundry now so we don't want it to keep the heat stored there anymore)
Meat minimalist diet (We don't eat big slabs of meat much, but we do have meat in many meals), careful seafood choices (tuna is not as bad as it used to be)
lowering our hot water temperature (When the hot water system was replaced we can't recall turning it down. I think there was some difficulty with doing so)
Gifts from recycled sources
tarpaulin for shade, blinds for front windows (Both replaced with shade cloth - the tarp tore, as it wasn't really suitable; the shade cloth at the front was more efficient)
Tyson's work (He is no longer directly in sustainability work, but teaches heritage wood craft skills through Joy of Wood, which contributes in a different way)

Care with washing water
No rubbish challenge
Bike riding (Certainly not meeting my goal of riding anywhere I could get in under ten minutes. Especially not the pool in winter)
toy library (No longer relevant as our kids are primary school age now, but we also used it much less with #2)
showers over bath (One of our children loves a bath, so its a special treat to indulge in; the other can stay in the shower so long I'm not sure it uses any less water anymore. Baths are also great for calming late afternoon restlessness)
speaking out (Sometimes. I have been to one student climate strike. I am considering joining dear friends who are venturing into Extinction Rebellion)
water consciousness (partly dropped from our priorities as two desalination plants now serve Perth, so it is not so urgent as it was; we still watch water use, but we don't recycle as we once did)
various shading (our main shading is now corflute, washing on the clothesline for hot days, a painting canvas in the bathroom, and a few foam mats outside windows)
re-using garden waste (we have never again borrowed the shredder, but we do try to keep green waste out of the bin where we can)
Christmas conversations and actions (we still wrap entirely in re-usable cloth, re-use the same decorations each year, don't send Christmas cards and make the few we do give... but we have a 7yr old and a 10yr old and we buy them gifts. New. We try not to buy plastic - except Lego, which we have mounds of. When giving gifts to our children's friends we choose a book from our shelf that we have read and enjoyed and re-gift it)

Shop Ethical Guide (we haven't looked it up for a while, but mostly continue with what was best option a few years back)
Ethical fundraising (I'm not involved in fundraising at present and our school doesn't push it, but this commitment remains rumbling along ready to rise again when the time comes)

no TV (Except Iview on Friday nights. But no TV doesn't mean much anymore because every phone is a TV in your pocket. Sorting out appropriate screen use for our family is a work in progress. We were recently given a TV and it is on a wheeled table with a cover over it, coming out only on Friday nights)
no driving to school (We aspire to ride bikes every day, but the number of legitimate reasons to drive seems to be expanding: too hot, too rainy, need to carry something, running very late, someone's sick...)
sustainable catering (We haven't been in a situation since I posted about this to do likewise or otherwise)
reusing construction waste (Fewer construction sites on our street and fewer projects needing these sort of materials has slowed this down. Tyson also has enough recycled wood now stored to keep us going a long time)

Things we are still doing pretty much as written about

Efficient lighting (now LEDs rather than CFLs when replacements arise)
Compost (although in more efficient/ effective ways than in 2009)
Shade cloth (yes, both the original and expansion pieces and replacement of originals that eventually wore out)
no standby electrical use
enviro laundry and dishwasher powder
water pipe insulation
door weather seal
Christmas Baking Day (OH yes, we still do this - and it has grown, this year to nearly 50 people)
verge collection including using recycled materials found (although there have been few notable instances lately)
books (as written at the time, we do buy books, in moderation, as well as buying second hand and using libraries)

cold water laundry washing
reducing toilet cistern volume
no buy no waste children's activities (Although, of course, not the toddler or preschooler ones shown - they are so big now!)
buy WA cheese (Although there is no longer ANY 1kg block cheddar made in WA; but to compensate, we mostly buy all WA dairy now - yoghurt and milk as well as cheese)
fuel efficient car (We still drive the Citroen from 2008; a new car would be more efficient but we are not in the market for a new car)
preserving fruit (more often bottled now than frozen)
Strawberry Jam. And Nectarine. And mulberry. And last week for the first time, after a bumper crop off our self-sown apricot tree, apricot jam. But not lilly pilly after the first go. And I'm not meant to tell you about the quandong jam because I found out later its not legal to pick wild quandongs. Oops.

Basically, we haven't bought shop jam except for specific recipes at Christmas since 2012. The only time we go to the farmers' market is at peak fruit times to pick up jam fruit.
re-doing summer shading every year (but not the various other actions in this post from 2012)
hot-weather coping strategies (not all of these all the time, but similar)
extractor fans & security screens for passive cooling
no single-purpose single-use plastic bags
care around buying new clothes (for myself - including jeans)
low waste children's birthdays (Ny great joy was that our ten year old this year wanted to celebrate her birthday with a church bring-and-share lunch, afternoon tea with her grandparents, and taking two car loads of school friends to run around at Kings Park after school for a couple of hours without any promise of party food or goodie bags) and any special birthdays are also celebrated joyously with minimal waste
boiling only the water we need
try fixing it first
rubbish free lunches
car pooling (When we can. We are well beyond kindy now, which this blog was about, and #2 got driven to kindy alone as we had no-one near us to pool with)
grapes in a rental garden (and now also apricots!! Because we are miraculously in our thirteenth year renting the same house)

loft bed
no printed phone directories
efficient washing machine
buy local for school supplies (Unfortunately the newsagent described in this post has closed, but I talked to our school about moving from an international to a local school supplies company and the whole school's booklist is now run through WA-owned Ziggies)
redecorate with what we have (Not that we redecorate! But we did do a major room rearrange/ bedroom swap this year without buying anything)
upcycle where possible (including Tyson's work mostly using timber offcuts to produce beautiful handcrafted items)
enviro toilet paper
more efficient fridge

various earlier actions: no clothes dryer, water-saver shower heads, green energy, minimal aircon or heater use, reverse cycle set at 24 degrees in summer and 19 in winter, not turning lights on unless dark, one car, enviro friendly cleaning products, full use of recycling services, minimal alfoil, free range eggs chicken and pork, fair trade coffee, mostly fair trade tea, cloth shopping bags, not growing lawn; and another lot: low-water garden, seasonal mats in the living area, bamboo blinds on the back window, shed vent