My understanding of the world lately has become a space of paradoxical collision. On one hand, I’m becoming increasingly conscious of precisely how devastating our reckless consumerism as a culture is to the environment. A student in my political philosophy class last week flattened us with details I didn’t even know, during our unit on environmentalism and social ecology. She told us, for instance, about the continent-sized patch of plastic trash floating around the Pacific Ocean, doing incredible damage to marine life. If you let yourself absorb that, and you should, every plastic bottle, every needless bit of packaging you consume becomes another instance of gross complicity. And that doesn’t even get to the politics of how people around the globe are making all the stuff we consume at unlivable wages under intensely exploitative global trade agreements.
I try to console myself with the fact that I’ve made what from my limited perspective are great strides in reducing my personal contribution to waste and environmental destruction. If I can, anyone can. I drink from reusable containers, compost almost all my biodegradable waste, recycle about everything else, nurture an urban garden on which I use NO pesticides, bring my own bags to the store, keep the lights and A/C off as much as possible, and drive a lot less. I am currently generating so little trash waste that I’m only emptying my main trash can about every two weeks–a big improvement from previous years. Now I’m trying to kick it to the next level: buy items that are more sustainably packaged, move all my classes to paperless format (I’m about 85% there), take the light rail as many days as possible next academic year, and try to raise more young people’s consciousness.
On the other hand: I still love The Gap and Target, and in the ridiculously abundant spectrum of American consumer goods I think they have the most affordable basic quality products around. I want a pair of this season’s Gap 1969 jeans, which retail for a quarter of the price of “Seven for all Mankind” (hah!) designer jeans. But even if The Gap’s global labor policies have allegedly improved, how do we know those jeans aren’t stitched by hidden contractors that hire poor women in Thailand or Singapore to slave away for next to nothing, with no wage or safety protection?
Upcycling, yes. My dear friend Jen just started a small business sewing marvelous things from the scraps of other things. The concept’s catching on all over. I gave Jen a bunch of old clothes to metamorphose, and I’m happy to pay her for it. And yet I still find myself wanting some shit from The Gap. If I’m in a mall, I’m pulled toward that store like a rat to stench. But such lovely, cottony stench.
They tell me that the parts for an average computer can come from so many places around the world that the carbon footprint to make them constitutes about 2% of all global emissions–the same as air transport. (See this.) But I am unabashedly IN LOVE with just about everything Apple, especially my new, as of this week, MacBook Pro. Apple insures me that they’re on track to eliminate toxic chemicals from their products, and they appear to be paying close attention to drastically reducing their environmental impact (if one believes their PR, which I tend to perhaps gullibly do). I’m grateful for that. I’m also draining energy all day long when I plug in my computer. I’m learning to be conscious of the proper use of a computer battery, which is to run it down regularly and recharge it (nevermind what’s in “it”). But let’s face it: the computer is a fricking miracle, and the Apple a miracle of design, beauty, function. I haven’t the slightest idea how it works, but I am in awe of it, and entirely dependent on it. When I hooked up the Firewire cable between my old and new laptops two nights ago and saw “my whole life,” that universe of words and images, transfer seamlessly to the new MacBook Pro, I wanted to French kiss Steve Jobs. My relationship with Apple Computer is one of the most satisfying relationships of my life. What the hell?
Other likely landfill-bound stuff that I love right now, god help me:
- These cheap-ass black flip flops from State Farm insurance that someone threw to me from a float during the Denver Gay Pride parade. They’re probably the most comfortable flip flops I’ve ever had. I haven’t the foggiest where they’re made or who suffered from inhalation of toxic fumes in producing them.
- Hanes Perfect Women’s Panties–I am not kidding you, they are a rare product that is accurately named. In briefs, thongs, bikinis, boy shorts, whatever, they have to be the most comfortable, breathable, stretchy bits of lovely underwearness I’ve ever encountered. About $7 for two pair at Target. I’d like to replace all my old undies with these. I have no idea where they come from (heaven?) or what enslaved beings make them possible for the likes of me, or what the hell nylon even is. I am an oblivious, pampered American.
- Our Petmate Fresh Flow water fountain–Paco and Rico love it, they drink more water than they ever did, which keeps them healthy, and I like the low white noise it makes. It is made entirely from that miracle plastic that will probably end up in a landfill or a floating island; it is plugged in all the time; and the filter has what appears to be coal in it. And I totally heart it.
- I’m not even going to start with my lovely LG flip phone, to which I have become perpetually affixed. Nevermind that I can hear my ears ringing every night, probably from years of cellphone use.
So, then. How to love and appreciate these miracle creations without becoming just another vehicle of disrespect for the planet? Yesterday I heard an economist on NPR commenting about how crucial it is to the global economy that Americans in particular start spending again–since the global economy depends heavily on our consumerism. But isn’t that partly how we got in the current pickle? And is that really what we ought to do, to keep states and economies humming along while human and natural beings and systems suffer? How to even contain all this perplexity in my head when, clearly, I am as far gone as the rest of us in my stuff-dependency, thing-fixation–yay, idolatry?
Dunno. Let me post this to my blog now. So you can all read it with your computers on the internet.