What moron said that knowledge is power? Knowledge is power only if it doesn't depress you so much that it leaves you in an immobile heap at the end of your bed.
I've been reading again -- big mistake. I just finished a book called Sustaining the Earth: Choosing Consumer Products That Are Safe for You, Your Family, and the Earth, by Debra Dadd-Redalia. In 330 pages she says that there are very few products that are environmentally pure, except some sneakers (Eco Sneaks) and some safe, sustainable barbecue briquettes (Barbecube Fruit Wood Briquets). Of course, if the sneakers come to you gift-wrapped, or if you actually use the briquettes to barbecue anything, the earth is again in peril.
I used to think I was living fairly environmentally soundly. I write on the back of any paper that comes my way. I tear the windows out of business envelopes before recycling them. I bring my used soda cans home from hotel rooms because I don't trust the hotel staff to recycle them. I walk my foster daughter to school every day. I rinse and reuse Ziploc bags. I have low-flow toilets (which are the ultimate sacrifice because they require frequent plunging, and the threat of overflow means one can never really be at peace). I have a compost pile for lawn clippings, food scraps, and bunny waste, which I water with buckets of shower water I collect while waiting for the water to get hot.
Still, if the guy driving the UPS truck that delivers my recycled toilet paper stops off for some to-go food in a Styrofoam container, the scales are tipped right back toward disaster.
Things we use that can't go back to the earth to be used again have a finite availability and so, in turn, do we. It's as simple as that. Faced with such an overwhelming concept, I have to guard against just giving up and becoming completely cynical. I confess that when I first read that smog is particularly hazardous to children, senior citizens, and physically active people, for a brief moment I thought, "I'm in the clear for at least 10 more years."
I used to use Shopping for a Better World by the Council on Economic Priorities for my responsible consumer needs. It rates companies with an A, C, or F on their environmental impact, their record on hiring women and minorities, and their willingness to disclose that information to the public. So, for example, there's Chevron with an F in the environment category but a B under minorities and an A under the disclosure heading. It seems to me that if a company is destroying the earth, the fact that they're including minorities in their pillaging and are willing to tell us they're doing it should be little comfort. It's like forgiving an ax murderer who is nice to children.
Another book, 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth, breaks its advice up into such little bite-size pieces, it's out and out cheery. I've always liked that book because it tells you stuff like how many trees each individual can save each year by recycling their newspapers. I don't even subscribe to a newspaper -- but I've thought about starting just so I can recycle and save a tree.
I have tended to view my acts of conservation as some sort of retirement account deposit. As if, when the earth appears drained of every last bit of fossil fuel, there will be a few more full gas tanks set aside for me because of the time I walked to my therapist instead of driving. Under the same rules, I tend to bargain with the earth. As I leave the lights on at night (because I'm afraid of the dark), I think, "I won't use the dryer tomorrow."
Having a little sense of environmentalism only makes me a gifted rationalizer. I know that they clear-cut rainforests to make room for grazing cows and that an abundance of water and grain goes into caring for them and that they are often injected with all sorts of drugs. I do, however, have an occasional burger, and I usually justify it with intelligent thoughts like "My neighbor is worse than I am." If only someone would do for cows what Bambi did for deer. Cows have been in films, but they haven't starred. I'm still willing to eat a species that is only a supporting player.
I was very happy to recently receive for my birthday a toilet lid that has a faucet and a small sink and hooks up to the plumbing so that you can use clean water for handwashing and then re-use the handwashing water for flushing. I have no problem exchanging toilet water for handwash water. In fact, I'd gladly bathe in the toilet if it could make up for the fact that I don't enjoy a diet of sustainable foods. Aunt Bessie's nine-grain, organic, nondairy, unbleached breakfast bar is just no substitute for a Pop-Tart.
I don't cook and I eat in hotels a lot so I often make myself feel better by pretending that my minuscule environmental distinctions are important -- like when I call room service.
"French fries or potato salad with that sandwich, Miss Poundstone?"
"Potato salad, please."
"Sure are doing your share tonight, Miss Poundstone."
"Thanks for noticing. Earlier today I turned off the water while brushing my teeth."
Of course, now that Sustaining the Earth has provided me with all of this knowledge, I can see it's gonna take a little more than that. But I think I'll always recycle, because I'm a caring individual. And because I probably have an obsessive-compulsive disorder.