As many of you know, last year I attempted the Plastic Free July challenge… with dismal results. I started out the challenge feeling confident that I will rock it because there are so many lifestyle changes that we’ve made already to reduce our plastic use – I always use my trusty S’well bottle and Joco cup, I don’t use straws, and I bring a canvas bag when I go shopping. So I thought, for sure the top 4 offenders have already been eradicated from my daily use. However, once I started, and actually counted how many pieces of plastic sneak into my life on a daily basis, I realized I wasn’t working hard enough. I also realized how many challenges there are for an individual who is trying to do this without a community of support.
So the shameful part that I have to now admit, is that after the challenge I not only didn’t try harder, but I also backslid. And now a year has gone by and the challenge has started again, and I haven’t even said a word. I told myself that I will try it again, but I made no effort to prepare. I haven’t discussed it with my partner. And then Canada Day rolled around and I didn’t start it. And I still haven’t.
One hurdle this summer is that because I have to work on my dissertation, I don’t have any trips planned to get out of the city and into nature. It’s easy in Windsor to lose the connection to the wild. There is no where here that I get that overwhelming feeling of awe, love, and joy for nature as I do in BC, for example. There is no where I can go and spend the day surrounded by old growth forests, or natural and pristine beaches, or the ocean. Southern Ontario is so thoroughly stripped of that kind of joy, and day to day tasks make it difficult to get away long enough to find it. And research confirms the disconnect I am feeling. Studies find that spending time in nature brings a deep sense of happiness and connection, and that people feel a vague sense of unhappiness in man-made environments.
As my graduate education is slowly coming to an end, I also find myself more stressed out, eating worse due to lack of time for cooking, and producing a lot of garbage as a result. Last summer, I tried a local grocery delivery, which forced me to eat a variety of great local produce and cook on a regular basis. But we butted heads because they unnecessarily put all the produce in plastic bags, and even though I am very happy to hear that many of my friends signed up for the service this summer, I did not because their packaging practices have not changed. While I still have enough options for good quality local produce with less plastic, the fact that I have to go get it, mixed with stress and lack of time, means I default to going to one of Walkerville’s many delicious restaurants and cafe’s much more frequently than I’d like.
My dissertation (and in part, the challenge itself) also made me think about whether individuals trying to change their behaviour can really have the kind of impact that is needed to avert the worst of climate change. It feels futile, especially when you see things like assholes who are “Rolling coal” as a fuck you to environmentalists, or the fact that the People’s Climate March, the largest ever act of activism on climate to date was slammed for leaving piles of trash afterwards. Why should I bother with all the daily effort and mental thought that is required to build more sustainable habits? What is the point?
In thinking this way, I fall into the same psychological trap that I’ve been reading about: the classic commons dilemma, the failure of cooperation, the insidious impact of capitalist culture on the psyche: If I do it but no one else does it, I waste the effort and deprive myself, while everyone else can still live with all the comforts and conveniences of our throwaway culture. Knowing that this is a psychological trap, as it turns out, doesn’t make it any easier to overcome. It comes with guilt, shame, exasperation, sometimes despair, but mostly… indifference. Sometimes I rationalize it by telling myself that I am contributing to progress through knowledge creation, and that is my place, and that is enough because I can’t do everything. My research on the impact of culture on unsustainable behaviour also makes me ambivalent about focusing on individual behaviour change, when it is systemic change that will have the most impact. All this uncertainty allows me to remain complacent but also ashamed because I know I can do more. And when there is shame, that’s when the conversation dies, because if you don’t talk about it then you can pretend it’s not there.
In writing about it on the blog I hope to puncture through that barrier, to bring it out in the open and shine light on what I’m sure is a common experience of paralysis.
In related news:
~ 10,000 people marched in Toronto today for Jobs, Justice, & Climate
~ If you are in Windsor, and want to join a group, check out the Windsor chapter of the Blue Dot movement