Monday, September 12, 2011

29: Conservation

I don't want to write about conservation of the type people usually think about: white men in Attenborough- or Irwin-inspired khakis, telling everybody off for flushing toilets too many times a day and using too much paper. (Toilet, or other.)

Today, truth is I don't really want to write about anything at all. But I set myself a goal and I don't want to see it go the way of all paper (toilet only), just two days after beginning. I'm glad I listed all these topics in advance so that I wouldn't be able to pull the "I don't know what to write about" card.

I wish it weren't so, but I have a strong resistance to saying that I am in support of conservation. Don't get me wrong: this world is a complex, captivating place and I would like it to stay that way for the rest of its appointed lifespan, without our needing to become dependent on full-body climate protective gear and other props from bad 1950s sci-fi films. I would like the existing number of plant and animal species to stay right where it is and, if it insists on changing, to go up rather than down (discovery, rather than extinction). I would like our water to be unpolluted, our landfills kept skinny, our lifestyles less excessive.

Yet I get the feeling that isn't all that comes to mind when you hear "conservation" these days. I can't help but also think of violent acts by animal rights activists. Of projects thick in red tape and thin in quality-of-life improvements for those on the ground. Of publicity gimmicks that foster the delusion that if you switch your lights and TV off for one hour a year, you are Doing Something to Save the Earth. And all of these make me weary and sad, as does the thought of all the hot air that gets generated talking about all the good we could do the earth while we go about our lives in ways that are completely contrary to what we're saying.

I don't automatically buy cleaning products just because they claim to be "eco friendly"; I need to know that they'll live up to the claim with ordinary household use, not in obscure lab tests. I am sceptical that recycling is always superior on all points to manufacturing new -- what about the water and energy used to collect, store and eventually recycle these materials? Isn't it also worthwhile to explore how to have less to throw away in the first place? And, every March, I am one of the increasingly few who conscientiously object to Earth Hour. Now that is one rare point of total agreement with the rest of my family, who have been increasingly bemused by its presence in Malaysia. (One year, my father sent me an email about how Important People had been quoted by the press as asking everybody to observe Earth Hour, after all it's only one hour on a Saturday, and even without TV or the movies you can always hang out with friends! Talk to your family! Spend time with your kids! One hour is all we ask; I mean, who ever heard of making investment in key relationships a regular lifestyle choice? Anyway, my father: he had gone for his routine neighbourhood watch patrol that particular Saturday night and seen more than a couple of cars, most with no more than two or three on board, slowly circling the neighbourhood while driver and passengers observed Earth Hour by gawking at what the place looked like with everything turned off.)

Small, fluffy endangered Western Australian native

I know I'm a far cry from some of my composting, home-farming, permaculture-type friends and relatives. I can't say I'm satisfied with my current level of caring. And I think it's quite apparent by now that I have a strong self-critical streak. However, what I've finally been able to tell that streak, whenever it rattles off a soliloquy on how much more I could be doing, is: at least I am doing something. For what it's worth, I'm engaging my brain in my decisions on how to go about life, what I eat and wear and use, how it was produced, how it comes to me. I don't bring home anything I don't need, and when something needs to be thrown out I find out the best way/place to dispose of it and direct it there. I keep cloth totes with me almost all the time, so that I won't need to use a plastic bag. (I commented, years ago, on the use of "ecology" as bag marketing gimmick in place of genuine social responsibility topic.) I like my toilet paper recycled because that's one context where I really believe colour doesn't matter. And -- unlike many of the well-meaning "conserving" types I know -- I refrain from preaching at everybody else that they need to do exactly as I do. I acknowledge that everybody has a part to contribute towards restoring some of the terrible damage we've done to nature. I just don't presume it's my place to tell you what your part should be and grade you on your failure to do it.

Unless you're one of those who spend Earth Hour by deliberately getting into an air-conditioned fossil fuel-run vehicle to drive it around an already polluted suburb -- such people I do judge, with more enjoyment than is good for me. But it's hard to resist when they make it so easy.

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