I have to say, Al Gore has made my job a lot easier. A few days ago I was pulling back from an internet worm hole I’d fallen down, searching for rainwater collection systems I could install/create in my own backyard: I had ended up on a permaculture design board full of postings from earnest do-it-yourself environmentalists, all of whom were talking about capturing bath and washing-machine water, how to move it to the garden, or reuse it to flush the toilet. And I remembered a time when I had kept my environmental leanings, and behaviors, largely to myself. Back in the day, the only people I knew who pulled garbage out of dumpsters and reused shower water on their plants were also punk rockers and squatters, folks so completely outside of the mainstream that their home composting systems and militant bicycle riding were but parts of a larger, entirely DIY whole. And here were hundreds of regular folks talking about their homemade rain barrels and toilet siphons on the internet.
These days, even the fringiest attempt at conservation is hitting the mainstream media, and more and more “normal” people are asking me how I maintain my worm bin, or where to find the best salvaged construction materials. Only the other day a man on WNYC was discussing giving up toilet paper and coffee, for environmental reasons. And that, of course, is just how I want it.
Last week I went to visit Hanna Fushihara Aron, who runs a gallery called Little Cakes on East Sixth Street. The gallery’s mission statement emphasizes sustainable business practices and environmental awareness and action. Of course, I was fascinated by a gallery that discussed its eco renovation and non-toxic cleaning products alongside bios of its artists, and decided to visit. Hanna and I talked for quite a while, and while the whole conversation was illuminating, there was one thing she said that has been echoing in my head ever since: we were talking about composting, and worm bins, and she said that one reason she does “radical” things, and spends time talking about them, is to make them more normal. “I actually look forward to a time when I don’t have to talk about this stuff, ‘cause everyone will just be doing it.”
And I think she’s right, that is the goal. This isn’t some freaky extreme sport, it’s not a competition, it’s a way of life that some of us think makes more sense than the “old” way. I think it’s morally wrong to flush clean, drinkable water down the toilet when millions suffer for the lack of same. And I think it’s perfectly fair to point that out to other potentially caring, concerned people.
Considering the amount of flak Al Gore got when he appeared in Washington at the end of March, the answers to the climate crisis are not going to come from our government, or from industry. No one is going to lower the subsidies that make unhealthy food from the other side of the world cheaper than organic food from our own state. They’d rather pay trillions for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than for sustainable energy systems and health care.
So it’s time to come out of the closet (though you can leave the worm bin in there). One-on-one conversations and suggestions are the first step to a radical shift in thinking, and acting, in this country. One at a time we’ll pass along our methods for lessening our impact, for conserving and sharing, and along the way much of what we do will, I hope, become “normal.”
In which spirit I ask you, beloved reader, what do you do to conserve resources? Come on, let it out — there’s no shame in this game — we all want a better, cleaner, safer world. I’ll be waiting by my computer for your tips and suggestions. Nothing’s too weird, if it works.