1. There is No “Away”
When we realize that our fuel, electricity, water, meals, clothing, electronics, etc. come from somewhere (actually a whole bunch of “somewheres”), and we do our homework to figure out where, we realize there is no “away.”
Wherever we end up on this planet, we remain intrinsically connected to a complex web of producers and ecosystems and communities. What we purchase, how we travel to our destination, what we consume and what we waste, it all has wide-ranging impacts.
For example, depending on where we pump our gas, we are linked to indigenous communities in South America (whose homelands are polluted by open-pit oil fields, left behind by Texaco and Exxon) or to defunct fishing communities in Louisiana (still suffering from the after-effects of the massive British Petroleum oil spill), or to Gwich’in peoples in the arctic, who are desperately trying to protect the ancestral lands of the Porcupine caribou, a culturally significant species they cannot exist without.
If we choose to purchase bottled water, we are connected to communities whose aquifers have been drained dry by water-bottling corporations (Nestlé, Coca Cola), and to “cancer clusters:” low income neighborhoods in the vicinity of petroleum-processing industries (where plastics originate) who are experiencing higher-than-normal rates of cancer, and who can’t move away because their property values are too low.
When we acknowledge that every disposal sends something to a place where it can have a potentially very negative impact, we understand that we do not throw it “away” – instead, we pollute.
Right now much of the ocean contains more plastic than plankton and is becoming increasingly acidic. This means that millions of oceanic creatures are ingesting tiny micro-plastic particles, and the base of the entire marine food system is collapsing.
When we throw food or other compostables (or anything, for that matter) in the trash, we are adding tons of methane to the atmosphere. Methane is the most potent of the greenhouse gases contributing to climate change, emitted primarily from landfills. Climate change affects all of us.
Before we throw our hands in the air and give up (we call this “paralysis by analysis”), know that there are solutions. Better ways to do things. This is why we choose wisely! Read on!
2. Upcycling/Upgrading is Chic
We always have choices, and upgrading our choices puts the “glamour” into, well, just about everything!
When we choose higher-quality, longer-lasting, better-made products, not only do we enjoy a more elegant experience, we make more sustainable choices. Going one step further, when we choose to research the provenance of everything we bring into our life, we know the maker, the farmer, the distributor.
100% organic is how we eat. This choice recognizes our genuine care for our bodies, for the welfare of farmers and farmworkers, and the health of birds and bees and furry and finned and scaled and leafy creatures living in the vicinity of the farm or ranch.
Gently used clothing and linens is what we buy. Because we love to save money without sacrificing quality, we take our eagle eyes to Goodwill and other thrift stores, and find our high-fashion labels at upcycling stores like Buffalo Exchange and ThredUp.
We acquire our high-end camping gear at deep discount. For upscale, reused supplies we check out local yard sales or antique stores (that carry vintage lanterns, binoculars, thermoses, etc.) or shop at REI’s garage sales or do an itemized search on Craigslist.
Any other products we source from Fair Trade or Made-in-America businesses (including Etsy), to maximize the positive bang for every buck we spend.
People-to-people power is what we call this manner of conscientious consuming.
3. Be A Citizen Ambassador
When we choose wisely, we have the opportunity to upgrade our relationships, too!
How do we get the Most-est and Best-est our of our choices? We hook up with local communities! We find out who’s having a Pancake Breakfast fundraiser, a wild mushroom hike, crab-fest, or make-your-own pizza extravaganza.
We seek out local coffee shops and bakeries, linger at local bookstores, and seek out artists’ cooperatives. We find out when the local farmers market are held, and we show up with our own bags and dishware.
To ensure our monies go directly into the local economies and help keep out-of-the-way spots viable, we stay at AirBnB or regular Bed-and-Breakfasts, or we go wild and crazy and book with, or become a host on HipCamp (a network of >280,000 private property owners who allow folks to stay overnight).
Recognizing the best way to win friends and feel wanted is to help out, we volunteer to clean up beaches, maintain state parks, or remove invasive species in natural areas. In more urbane settings, we serve food or wash dishes at the nearest soup kitchen, or humbly take a plate with everyone else, sit down, and listen to someone’s story.
At the very least, we leave every locale where we stay looking and feeling even more connected than when we first arrived.
4. Honor All Our Relations
Ask any First Nations or Native American tribe who our relations are, and they will point to every species on earth. If we continue paying attention, they’ll point to the waterways and the mountains, the valleys and the oceans.
In other words, meet Brother Elk, Sister River, Cousin Frog, and Grandmother Spider. Say hello to Mother Earth.
As Conscientious Choosers, we want to see more, not less. To do so, we protect our relations. We drive cautiously, to avoid harming local wildlife. We are active members of major conservation organizations advocating for ecological protection such as Earthjustice and the Center for Biological Diversity.
We know who the local residents are, and who is threatened or endangered. If we are visiting Yosemite National Park, we take care of the buffalo. If we’re in the Pacific Northwest, we help save the salmon and the redwoods.
Traveling to the Florida? We save the manatee. In the American Southwest, we protect the sage grouse. In the Midwest, we advocate for wolves.
Get the picture?