I’ve been thinking a lot about consumerism. I’ve been thinking about waste. Environmental footprints. Production. I’ve been thinking about the food we eat, the products we buy, the things we expect. In the wake of a lot of ~things~, I’ve been thinking about how we treat this world and each other and our expectation of how we should be treated in return.
I guess you could say I’ve been thinking a lot.
On my way to work, there was this field of wild sunflowers. I loved walking past it every morning. I always wanted to go pick a bunch for my desk. But then yesterday they came and mowed it down.
I don’t know why and I guess I can’t be mad. Except now all there is to look at is this garbage littered across the lot. Empty cleaning supplies. Styrofoam takeout containers. Plastic bags. Beer cans. Beer bottles. Broken toys. Condoms. T-shirts. 42 oz soda cups from Whataburger.
It’s a disgusting sight.
So I’ve been thinking about that, too.
I’ve been thinking about humanity and all the different ways of thinking, all the different lifestyles and cultures and opinions. And while I think all that’s great, I can’t help but wonder what happened to make so many of us so careless — towards this planet, its species, each other.
And I know people will roll their eyes because we don’t like to talk about it. For whatever reason, we have decided in general that since man is the dominant species, this world is somehow here for us and will always be here for us and we can do with it what we will because it is for us.
And I know people will roll their eyes yet again because I have no reason to say something about it. Maybe no one wants to read my 95 Theses on littering. I mean, I’m not an especially outdoorsy person. I’m not even a vegetarian. I still eat grain and corn and gummy candy and frozen pizzas. Most of my wardrobe is from H&M. I balk at the idea of spending $100 on an organic cotton tee. I even went to the San Diego Zoo and I didn’t get my first dog from a shelter.
But I care about this planet. I’ve tried to be more conscious of it and my choices and the correlations between the two. And I know there are biases and complications. And humanity with all its nuances and needs isn’t that easy to support. After all, we can’t all be vegans who shop at Patagonia and only buy organic. But even for all the problems vs. solutions, to me it comes down to one thing: basic human decency.
What is it that inspires someone to feel okay about leaving soda cans and cigarette butts in an empty lot? Why don’t we feel a sense of responsibility to a planet that we are directly dependent upon? When did we become so parasitic, latching on to this host planet, taking and taking and expecting to give nothing in return?
Walking to work, seeing those candy wrappers and shucked off shirts just left there for somebody or nobody else to deal with really enrages me. I imagine these people going to a friends house or visiting their grandmother and having the audacity to just leave beer bottles and condoms all across the living room floor thinking hey, someone else will take care of it.
It infuriates me.
How do we delude ourselves into thinking there is no cause and effect, no justifiable reason for us to stop living like this because the very fact that we can live like this somehow means we’re meant to live like this.
I want to know when we became so bad at being a part of this earth. We’re the prima donna who can’t blend. The ring leader who can’t adapt. The lemming who can’t see the cliff coming.
But I think about the world and I am in awe of it. National parks, whole species, amazing stretches of an unfathomable planet. We should be honored to be a part of it. But somehow we all gave up on caring about this planet and now it feels like we’re too far gone. If you care about one thing you have to care about everything, and then what’s the point? We can’t change anything, right? The way we consume is ingrained in all of us.
Did you know the average American throws away 80 pounds of clothes a year? And last year alone, there was an estimated 60 million tons of produce thrown away just in the US.
Think about all the restaurants with their expansive menus. Think about McDonald’s and Taco Bell being open all night long. Think about grocery stores all with over 47,000 products, all with expiration dates. Think about the sheer amount of breadsticks and old milk and salad bars and hamburger buns that have to be discarded at the end of every day.
Consider the nearly 4,000 H&M locations and the 2,000 Zara’s around the world, new items and styles coming in almost weekly, replacing the barely sold.
Think about waters and showers and loads of laundry. The AC, the electricity. Cars and gas. Saran wrap. Tin foil. Nail polish. Hair elastics. Toothbrushes. Throw pillows. Dishware. Canned tuna. Hangers. Plastic bags. Paper.
I could be wrong, but I think human beings are the most wasteful species on earth.
And yet we expect to get away with it.
Somehow there is this idea that the planet has gone through ebbs and flows and can take care of itself just fine. But, if you really think about it, for most of its 4.5 billion years it never had to deal with us. So this is new territory and it seems like we could all afford to be a little more self-aware, a little more careful, and a little more appreciative. I don’t know where we get off on being so ambivalent or callous enough to think c’est la vie I will do what I want, buy what I want, get what I want when I want it because I can and so I should. It’s obscene. And I think in general it comes from this self-imposed separation between our lifestyle and our planet.
We don’t have to think about where our garbage ends up because we don’t have to see it. We don’t have to know who ate the cost on that $10 blouse because it’s a steal for us and anyways aren’t those Indians lucky to have jobs anyways? We don’t have to worry about meat and animal treatment because it’s just a frozen patty and we shouldn’t have to meet the cow (or the 100 cows, really) that went into it. And we don’t have to think about where our food comes from or if it’s even in season because it’s always there, in bulk, 365 days a year.
But we should worry about it.
And I guess that’s what really frustrates me: we don’t want to think about it. We want to throw our litter out on the street because it’s easy. We want to clean out our closets because it’s fun. We want to try a new diet because it’s trendy. And we want to do it all without worrying about consequences because the world’s been fine so far, right?
I don’t agree. But I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know what I hope to get from writing this. To be honest, it sucks thinking about this stuff. A lot of times I get overwhelmed and panicked and I end up having strange meltdowns because there’s TOO MUCH to do and worry and think about and I literally cannot even. Take for instance: I want to have less stuff, but that means getting rid of stuff, and getting rid of stuff means throwing stuff out, and throwing stuff out means trashing it or sending it to goodwill to be outsourced and trashed in India, and then I’m still just a part of the problem.
But I think the first step is to just begin to realize what goes into our lifestyles. To be more conscious of our choices. We need to educate ourselves. We need to think about the sources of our consumerism, the cost of our lifestyle. And maybe we can’t change everything about everything. But we can each remember we’re dependent on this planet and we can all do better by it.
We have to do better by it.
So, while I know every story has a bias and every advocate has an angle, here are some things I’ve been reading and watching. You should check them out (and tell me if you do!):
- Food, Inc: A 2008 documentary that has been talked about and talked about. But it’s still really interesting! We should know what goes into making all that meat and food available all the time, and at what cost. I’m not a vegetarian, but there are still smart ways to consume meat.
- The True Cost: 2015 documentary exploring the clothing industry and how fast fashion impacts the third world countries we outsource to. It’s not perfect, but it’s an interesting conversation starter that really makes you question if $20 jeans is actually that great a deal. For anyone.
- Minimalism: A 2016 documentary about crazy people living crazy minimalist lives. I cannot fathom getting this extreme, but there’s something really cleansing about the idea of trying.
- Fed Up: A 2014 documentary exploring the politicizing of sugar. It’s sort of shocking to consider the food industry isn’t thinking about us; they’re thinking about their bottom line.
- The Omnivores Dilemma: A 2006 book by Michael Pollan about the industrialization of food. It’s more than depressing and leaves you feeling frantic at the grocery store (do you realize corn is in everything???) but ultimately it’s about the importance of knowing where your food comes from.
- Captain Fantastic: Okay so this is a 2016 drama starring Viggo Mortensen as a father raising his kids in the wild away from the capitalistic America. It is fiction obviously but a really beautiful story about what should be valued and, really, how to find moderation among the extremes.