I Wish It Mattered

December 18, 2007 with loads of snow

I recently read where we can modify our lifestyles, but that it will probably not be enough at this point to reverse the current warming trend. At least at the rate we are losing habitat, species, potable water, land mass, and more. It does not mean that this type of modification is not necessary or should be dismissed. Is it us and our dependence on fossil fuel or is it nature’s grand course correction at play or both?

Many experts say it is both. But saving the environment is not so much the issue anymore, it is about outright survival as the article stated. Ours, and that which we hope to enjoy in a future irregardless of the cause.

2008 typical – 2010 little – 2011 none, You can see from these images that our snow cover lessened in the past five years on the same day of each year. December 18, 2011 there was no snow on the ground. I know this means practically nothing without corresponding data taken over longer periods of time, and the fact that winters do vary in WNY, but it is interesting none the less.

2009 perfect amount to welcome Christmas

The images are from Niagara Falls in order throughout this year from February 1, to May 31, 2011. Make any of the little ones bigger with a click. You can see how the weather warmed in March to welcome robins and break buds, to fall back into April with late snow. May was wet, yet most photos are taken during sunny conditions. February had breaks of no snow cover which is bad for plants in our area. January 2011 images were posted in the previous post.

The following post on Sustainability will continue the year in images.

I Wish It Mattered

Another article questioned what we are doing, saying we are attempting micro fixes, not addressing the macro issues with enough gusto. You really don’t read about the state of the environment as much as in previous years. I am not sure as to why either because it seems like ‘a head in the sand’ kind of approach now. We are seemingly in a denial of sorts.

“Environmental groups have all but abandoned a push for better policies (the big picture) in preference for encouraging their supporters to pursue futile personal green efforts, aided and abetted by marketers flogging supposedly green goods (the small picture),” Peter Knight of Context America. I added the big and small picture comment.

You can see why I chose this statement to stand out. He cites a startling episode of how many people got outraged to where action happened by the power of individuals. Wait until you read what caused the commotion and what the community did to rectify the situation. He also chronicles the point where “the environmental lobby went to sleep.” You should read his take on this subject. I cannot say I agree with all that his organization presents because it is very business oriented, and he appears to have a political bias, but he has many valid points.

Harsh criticism in his speech, but maybe just the right kick in the butt attitude. In trying to curb the ways in which we contribute to global warming, we do many small conservation practices. I too do all the little things like composting, conserving water, growing some vegetables, working and living in the same mixed-use structure, going paperless, keeping the thermostat down, recycling, among countless other common conservation techniques.  I drive very few miles and live in a city where I can walk to the grocery store and more.

Since all this is wrapped around my own personal existence, I characterize it as small measures, mainly because as a contribution to conservation and sustainability, it really is a drop in the bucket as I am but one.

He goes on in his talk to say, “A deep belief in the individual rather than group political action has spawned the campaigning clichés that now echo off websites, blogs and tweets. Changing the world, one lightbulb at a time, one organic lettuce at a time, one recycled loo roll at a time.”

When one wraps a very serious and complex issue up into a neat little cliché and rhetoric like this, it does not sound profound, it sounds almost laughable.

So what happened to the environmental momentum? Bigger fish started fighting back in ways they thought would appease the masses, splashing around glitzy marketing techniques and slogans. And how did it pan out? Pretty good as they advertised and packaged their way into our good graces.

But as time wore on, the use of green terminology and product became a success of fancy hype over a serious reality. It flooded the product market and lost its effectiveness and ultimately, consumer interest.

London-based SustainAbility. “Sustainability labels on products may no longer be sustainable, a report by a consultancy – London-based SustainAbility – has found. Labels such as Fairtrade and Energy Star have proliferated to such an extent that their value has been undermined, according to the study.

How many of us look at those little decals and think wow, I am making a difference here? We just assume that the regulations require compliance, and most are met at minimum standards I presume. Hooray for those that go above and beyond.

On this note, the criticism also is at the marketing of products that may or may not have environmental benefit, and attempt to convince the consumer that they are truly making a big difference. On this point, I agree, another pointless and manipulative tactic.

I use the light bulbs which he is taking to task, and I believe it is still better than doing nothing about it. But he says we are directing our efforts incorrectly and should be focused on the need for policy changes to encourage energy efficiency.” Not “change the world one light bulb at a time.” Hard to argue that approach. But how to tackle and enforce policy, that is the million dollar question.

But, what I think he is also saying is that we are not reaching enough with the right message, doing enough, that the activism has been misplaced for effectiveness, and the right individuals are not stepping up to the plate.

Basically, have the manufacturers be more cognizant of the damage their products do to the environment (and rectify it) and do not market the small good deeds to make the product more likeable and salable. I would love to be a fly on the wall in those marketing meetings, seeing where, how and why the research and development money is being spent in the way that it is currently.

Also, don’t create products that falsely claim to be ‘green’ (buzz word here), it dilutes all the good that was originally intended.

I saw a commercial the other day, stating by a popular shampoo manufacturer and one I use I might add, that they have replaced their packaging with a product containing 56 percent plant-based material. Now that sounds mighty good on the surface, but the bottle is plastic, and still has a petroleum-based component, so I would like to have them break this down a bit more.  I do appreciate companies that make headway in this area and present a caring, responsible front, but also hope that they truly are doing it for the right reason and not just as a PR booster.

I would like shampoo companies to address the product environmental safety also. Throw in the makers of detergents while we are at it too. Phosphates do a number on our natural waterways. Just happens the shampoo I use did not form nitrosamines in treated water, but many others do. Read the Nat Geo posting for additional information.

I did find some companies are using corn, pine bark, switch grass, while others are using sugar cane in processing the plastic. But processing still must occur and what energy is required for this?

Nat Geo has an article exposing environmental damage in their article Shampoos, Cosmetics May Form Cancer-Causing Substances in Water Supplies. I seriously doubt if the product itself presents a hazard, is making the container partially plant-based going to amount to a hill of beans?

And to look deeper into this issue, the plastic bottle, no matter what it is made of, gets tossed into a landfill somewhere, even shipped across the country or out of the country. It is all about the process.

And what happened to my shampoo bottle I placed in the bin for recycling?  The collector pulled it out of the bin and tossed it on top of my trash receptacle. Just so I would be aware of my misdoing. I guess it is not a recyclable product now. I was shocked and annoyed. So any wonder people stray from the path when even what appears simple turns complicated?

Has mainstream reporting and investigating waned because the activists lost the ear of big government and industry, the area where the changes really need to occur? It is almost like the environmental groups are giving up because government has gone soft due to lobbying pressures. With NASA’s newest findings is it any wonder the word futile is being thrown around? See my post a few days ago for this information.

Oddly since fossil fuel usage is such a hotbed topic, have you noticed cars seem to be shrinking? This is a move in the right direction, but is it a result of affordability?  Is it because the price of gas is so high that car companies reacted by making their vehicles smaller and consequently more fuel-efficient? I always wonder the motivation because if like in the seventies with the gas shortage, as soon as gas was plentiful, vehicles grew in size again. Like I said, I would love to be a fly on the wall.

Our lifestyle and buying habits are only a part of the much bigger problem. There are Summits to address just about everything in the environmental book too, except how many of us there are and will be in the future.

Just look at the chart above to see how many of us are predicted by 2100. Take note of the colors of arcs on this graph and see how they are vastly different. This may be represented as such because the survival of populations depend on available food and water supplies or the breakout of war over these basic necessities of life. And below, see how we have multiplied over time, a remarkable jump. There are even complicated charts showing how we are dispersed far and wide.

Knight’s statement of the shift to personal green efforts was a very valid point. Yes, every little bit helps, but that is the salient point, it is just a little bit, not nearly enough, big enough or in the time necessary for change by the predictions looming. It really is time to bring the collective head out of the sand and start paying attention to what is being reported by the experts. So a little builds up to a lot multiplied by many. See chart above.

On the flip side, Nat Geo stated, “For example, if 80 percent of people in an area served by a treatment plant used a typical amount of  (they named it, sic) shampoo daily, that amount of shampoo would account for up to 3 percent of nitrosamines in the treated wastewater, the authors wrote.” So if lots of people do something, it matters, good or bad. And is this a pivotal and climacteric factor affecting the climate change scales?

People should start taking an honest look at these issues to evaluate those that they support. If a big corporation is a great offender, stop the personal, economic and political support.  Most of us have far more than we need and take more than we deserve anyway.

And people willing to support change through conservation or living a sustainable life see multitudes that won’t, and that degrades the conviction of those that might. 

Knight also said,” We can not shop our way out of trouble.” I do agree. If you read his post on this you will understand. It is entitled, Effective action: We can’t save the world one drop at a time.

Yet we continue to focus on simplistic and manageable measures to make the world a better place because they are easily obtainable and make us feel mighty good. Certainly we must keep doing them, but we must do so much more, even if it is difficult.

It is almost like we are the weeds needing to be pulled to give the rest of life a fighting chance. You can readily see how there is no solution to this part of the problem, but there should be. I fear we may be saying, “I remember when,” and not in the typical nostalgic way.

But not all is grim on the sustainability front. There are people voicing and trying to reach many, like the environmentalists of almost fifty years ago, who took a stand and policy happened.

But it Does Matter

There is a group that is changing thoughts to actions, making a difference. It is called The Lexicon of Sustainability. They are a grass-roots type organization, spreading sustainable practice by example and words. I mentioned numbers necessary for the little things to matter in a big way and they have their sights set in that direction. It is education, but education that gets people motivationally involved. So what does it take for that? See my post for more information about them, and click to see how you can participate and help. I am just a concerned individual and hope more will feel compelled to take words to action too.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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21 Responses to I Wish It Mattered

  1. John says:

    A very interesting, thorough, and thought provoking (if a little depressing) discussion. I’m much like you in that I try to do all the “little things”: composting, conserving water, growing fruits and vegetables, trying to go paperless, keeping the thermostat down, recycling, and limiting my driving when I can walk or ride my bike. While this lends itself to a happy, cozy (semi self-righteous) lifestyle in my little bubble, it has often nagged me in the back of my mind that all this probably isn’t doing much good in the grand scheme of things.

    I do think that there is a lot of intent to do good, but many people want to just swap a few light bulbs and have their housekeeper buy a less toxic bottle of cleaning fluid. Fundamental and lifestyle altering changes are thus far a pretty tough sell. For me there’s always been a sense of frustration that my actions couldn’t do anything to facilitate change at the big picture level, the standard excuses always seemed so convenient: our economic system is too entrenched in the old way of energy production, coal/oil lobbies are too powerful, and the US will never be the first to enact significant changes when the “developing countries (India, China) are the biggest polluters, so why should we change if they don’t” argument always seems so prevalent. I realize now that embracing these arguments as obstacles is just another way of sticking my head in the sand. I do need to make a concerted effort to find a way to contribute to meaningful change at the macro/big picture level, instead of plodding along in my happy “business as usual” mode. Thanks for the motivation to do so.

  2. A very thoughtful, and thought-provoking essay.

    Taking small steps as individuals is helpful in a couple of ways. First, every little bit does help (usually).

    Second, taking small steps can help spur us on to take other steps. Someone might buy a rain barrel to help their garden, then become more aware of the positive effects it has on our waterways. This may cause them to volunteer with local groups or write to their legislators or take other steps that have a larger effect.

    Third, your actions may help change the attitudes of other people. I’ve had educated people tell me that they don’t believe that we puny humans have any effect on global climate change. If that’s your attitude, you can drive gas guzzlers all day long without worry. If we individuals talk to other individuals, perhaps we can get grassroots action happening.

    But the main point of your story is well taken. We can’t stop at small changes. We must somehow take big steps.

  3. Jess says:

    “If lots of people do something, it matters, good or bad” is exactly right. One doesn’t need to be out there waving the banner to be making a difference. If you believe in something: just do your little part.

  4. Donna there is so much to digest here, aside from enjoying the sheer stunning beauty of our planetlife via your images. And there is the rub – the amount of human life on our planet. Ecofolk steer clear of this topic too often and have us worrying about co2 from cow wind. It matters because if people talk tosh, they will turn us off the things that do matter. Europe are the biggest hypocrites with their eco light bulbs and their consumption of song birds. Must stop there…you’ve sparked a great debate and much to contemplate for the New Year. All the very best for 2012

  5. Interesting post – I really appreciate your tackling this difficult subject.

    I have to believe that making the individual, “small” actions matters – if only because it keeps us optimistic enough to keep trying individually, rather than just giving up and driving our own SUV/suburban tank. And who knows which of your neighbors (or blog readers) may be sparked to change their own behavior? At some point, I have to believe that we’ll reach a “tipping point” where, collectively, we realize that it is a basic necessity to take care of Earth. If we’re extremely lucky, we’ll reach that point before irretrievably screwing up the planet. If not, maybe we can make the decline less horrible.

    One point that I think bears more emphasis, though, is the importance of voting and holding our governmental leaders accountable. That may mean the scary prospect of attending local “breakfast with Senator X” events and actually asking environmental questions in public. That definitely means getting to the polls and voting for the lesser of two evils in every single election. (It’s a given, in this day and age, that none of our candidates will be majorly pro-environment.) And – most scary of all for many of us – it means quietly voicing the environmental stance in family discussions, talks with friends, and other day-to-day encounters.

    Thanks, again, for not letting this difficult subject get buried.

  6. Excellent article and commentary. The increase in greenhouse gasses created by Americans last year was massive in comparison to previous years. People think buying few processed organic groceries gives them “credits” towards driving their gas guzzling cars extra miles or not recycling. One of students told me that their family doesn’t recycle because it’s “too hard”, despite living in a neighborhood with single stream recycling and community provided recycling bins. We are dealing with apathy and laziness on an epic scale. When I tell people my garden/yard are 100% organic, they either roll their eyes or stare at me in disbelief. It’s supposed to be almost 60 here tomorrow. It should be much colder.

    Our gov’t is more interested in war than saving the environment. No matter who we elect, it’s always the same. I know I”m not going to save the world, but at least I’m doing everything I can not to make it worse. It’s all I can do.

  7. Well I have been so concerned for so long probably since the environmental movement of the 70s…so sad to see laws reversed and things we think help that don’t…that 56 percent plant based container is probably from virgin wood pulp so it is not helping…and that shampoo bottle can be recycled but our local recycling plants pick and choose what to pick up ….sick of the rip off of the word green and others like it…liars and phonies out there so you have to be savvy…Every year I work harder at sustainability but see neighbors with their lights on all night and such…when will we wake up…not until we are in a major catastrophe that we cannot get out of anymore…I will continue to do my part and re-examine my ways…just watching a NOVA episode about the Antarctic ice melting and how that may be the end of many of our places to live and population…maybe then will we wake up…probably not but I still think back on the The Lorax…very timely and actually a new movie version coming soon…maybe children will help wake us up again…

  8. debsgarden says:

    A very thought provoking and visually beautiful post. Climate change and catastrophic upheaval have been part of our planet from the beginning; so I am not convinced that modern technology has as big impact as other forces beyond our control. However, environmental responsibility is crucial on a personal level. Small steps do matter! We are all knit together and all organisms are a part in the fabric. We do impact the ecology by the products and practices we choose. If my yard is treated with harmful chemicals, the impact spreads beyond my own space. Who can say how far the domino effect will go? In the same way, small steps I take may also have an impact beyond what I can identify.

  9. Gaia’s ‘tipping point’ I can see coming – when the flood/drought/weirding hits home. MY home.
    Someone had a joke up. Planet Earth goes to the doctor, and he says – I’m sorry to tell you, you have humans.

  10. Dear Donna, I’ve read and reread your article — so much to take in. Thank you for referring us to the The Lexicon of Sustainability group again. I missed your posting the first time, so this is new to me. I’m going to mention them to my Extension Office at the next MG meeting and maybe I can present something to our community. It does matter, and we have to support those trying to make a difference. Well researched, Donna, and beautifully illustrated. P. x

  11. Goodness, there’s a lot of potential discussion here. I agree, there are mixed messages everywhere. Be a good consumer, use CFL’s, save energy. Oh, wait a minute, don’t throw that CFL away though, it contains mercury. Be sure to recycle those plastic bottles…oh, but wait, it takes more energy to recycle them, than to make them. As a consumer, I’m tired of being deceived.

    To me, the entire ‘green movement’, once reserved for hippies and do-gooders, became trendy for a while, and was subsequently hijacked by major corporations, and government lobbyists. It became profitable. Policy makers need to do better, and help us all to do better, and stop obsessing on the dollar.

    I agree, everything we do as individuals with a conscience, seems like an insignificant drop in a very large ocean. However, those individual drops do matter. Although each of us may not feel as if we’re achieving much in the grand scheme, even an individual can do a remarkable amount of damage at the local level. A simple example would be a selfish individual dumping waste oil in a creek, or clear-cutting his property. Choosing not to do such things does make a difference, albeit a small one. What’s clear is that our own efforts locally aren’t a substitute for global policy changes, which have the potential to achieve far more than we as individuals can alone. It must be global though, as many up and coming nations are some of the worst offenders.

    In regards to green-washing, which seems to run rampant these days, we’ve needed a new water heater now for a couple of months. To ‘do our part’ we’ve been seriously considering going to a tank-less on-demand system. They’re still obscenely expensive, so there’s little motivation to switch from a financial perspective, even with today’s fuel prices. I was willing to change ‘to do the right thing’ regardless though. They’re touted as ‘green’, but it didn’t take a lot of homework to realize they’re really not as green as the industry pretends, and even the plumbers who install them, and gave us our quotes, acknowledged that industry marketers have no desire to divulge the truth about these systems. If they did, nobody would buy them. Honestly, it’s given me a headache, and the longer I live, the more cynical I become. I still don’t know which water heater to buy!

  12. Greg says:

    money talks, bs walks. unfortunately.

  13. helensadornmentsblog says:

    My two daughters go to a school that teaches environmental conservation. I love to hear their take on taking care of the environment since they will be dealing with this on a much grander scale than we are right now.

  14. KL says:

    It’s very very scary to read that green products are not green :-(. I have also read that Whole Food, which claims to be so much organic, is not really that organic and many natural foods are loaded with poisons. But, I though that green products and energy savers are true to their words. Ah Well! More depressing news. I am members of various environmental groups and it seems like they try to work to their best but of course they are burdened with less money and less volunteers, government not listening, etc. But, I won’t be surprised to know that they are not doing enough as the board members of Nature Conservancy are nothing but all the big CEOs of all those big corporates/companies who are responsible for destroying nature and building the XL key pipeline, etc. But, each of us has to keep on working to promote climate/environment because drops of water indeed make a sea.

  15. I decided that my comment on your first post would be more appropriate here:

    Donna, I knew that you and I agreed on this topic, but I didn’t know how strongly you felt and how our thinking runs along many of the same lines. Politicians and corporations and even global summits are not going to solve the problem. We the consumers who allocate and spend the money can control the problem and already have the means to do it. Although I think it is still important for each of us to change light bulbs, drive fuel efficient cars, etc., our major tool is our spending and voting power. We need to cut back and carefully choose what we buy and whom we vote for to support environmental change. If our money does not go towards practices that are degrading the environment, then they will stop because they won’t be economically viable. Unfortunately this would mean a change of lifestyle that most perceive as unfavorable, so it hasn’t occurred.

    Here’s the bottom line as I see it:
    Each of us has not only the power, but the only power, our spending habits to make the needed changes happen.
    We are not saving the planet, we are saving our ability to survive on it.
    Carolyn

  16. David says:

    My first time to visit.
    Lots of tough decisions will need to be made by people on all levels; personal, family, community, city, state, country, groups of nations, groups of businessmen/women, collections of people united with a cause, and finally…the heads of each country.
    I do all the right things here at my garden/house, but I think the part that MUST happen is absolute realization that nothing can be taken for granted…a full store filled with food…we just think it appears like magic. Clean air, clean water, disposal of waste…all magic! How does it happen? If, for instance, we HAD to all tour our local wastewater plant ONCE a year we would be horrified as to how much wastewater we generate each year. We also all need to visit the city/local garbage dump for a day and watch the action.
    I don’t have a great answer, but I’ll tell you watching the movie ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ was the day I got on the bandwagon to do anything and everything to help our climate. I still have friends that think that movie is only politically driven. I think not.
    The last hope in some cases is for our world’s billionaires to buy vast amounts of the rainforest and set up paid guards to watch it….until we can figure things out. Of course, it would only set to motion another group of problems. Dual ownership of land like the Nature Conservancy model is a great start.
    You need to watch Willie Smits Saves a Rainforest. The link is on my garden blog. If only we had a hundred million of his kind doing a hundred million things to affect the climate in a positive way. I stay hopeful.
    David/ Tropical Texana/ Texas Gulf Coast

  17. b-a-g says:

    Donna – This beautiful & sad post answered the question that I raised on the previous one.
    After reading the first comment, I checked the top polluting countries in the world :
    http://www.reuters.com/news/pictures/slideshow?articleId=USRTXRKSI#a=1

  18. Wow! Donna, I will have to come back for the second half for I cannot sit here so long right now. Great post! I will say that we ‘consumers’ must change our habits of consumption . . . you may get into that in the second half. We need to know what we do consume and not support corporations that are harming our planet. Shampoos etc. can be bought with nearly 100 percent safe ingredients for humans and the planet. It is amazing how many harmful chemicals are in body products. I will be back to finish reading this. Well Done! Happiest of New Years!! Carol

  19. Patty says:

    All I know is that I am doing the best that I can to make the world/ my world a better place. i know there are others out there doing the same over the world. The world is too big to be able to control what we deem is wrong. There are too many people who don’t care or don’t have the ability to care because they are caught just trying to survive. Too many don’t understand or don’t want to understand because it means that their world will change. It is just a type of war on a different level. It is a war of belief, the belief that I count more than you, what I do is more important than you do. In my view I do what I can for myself and those around me, and if others join in then the more the merrier.
    Wishing you a Happy New Year and all the best in 2012.

  20. Donna,

    Thank you for a thoughtful and well illustrated post. Just since I was born the population of the United States has doubled. No wonder the world seems more crowded. it IS!

    –John

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