The Back-Patting, Feel Good Day of the Year

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It’s Earth Day. We’re supposed to heighten our awareness of how our day-to-day activities are, as I would put it in casual conversation, “kinda fucking things up.” The next day we return to those things, or most of those things. What I return to, or so I like to presume in the name of white middle class snobbery, is generally more ecologically friendly than most people put effort in on special days like today, so I have actually made little effort to change those things.

(As I ever so facetiously stated in a string of tweets this morning, there is even a guilt of environmental damage for the “ecologically friendly” options we have.)

And I’ve written before about the conspicuous consumption I don’t want to abandon. It is comparatively modest to the lifestyles with which the English-speaking people who have access to read this on the internet are familiar, whether they live it themselves or live alongside those who do. We all feel validated by owning things, and the global economy of raw resources and manufacturing have moved all except those with the education to design new products into other countries, and so most of us don’t have a clue how taxing on the earth (and human beings) even our simplest of luxuries are. If I compare my consumer choices to those of others around me in the First World, I can feel (pseudo-)modest like humble(-braggart) lefties these days do. If I compare myself to the rest of the world, however, the materialism of my personal space is stark.

So Earth Day to me, so far, has been about getting free coffee at the Starbucks next door by bringing in the same tumbler I use every morning that already gets me a 10¢ discount. Whatever else I do or don’t do is either not inconveniencing me in the least, or because I either did it some other day recently or can put it off until tomorrow or next.

And one of those things – noted in the other entry linked to above – is books. Yesterday I bought several books, in paper form, because they’re a material item of non-necessity, that I want. I can justify this purchase as less of a damage on the environment in so many ways: I walked there and back to buy them, I carried them in a reusable bag, books don’t come with excessive plastic packaging, and the hours I spend reading them will be powered merely by a lamp, if that, as opposed to electrically taxing appliances with illuminated screens. Books (most books) aren’t as shallow of an item to consume (by the same logic of liberal WASPs used above) as “lower” forms of needless entertainment, but they are physical items, adding to the decoration of my living space, which, heated lit and connected, I justify as being entitled to by myself. It’s an apartment, more sustainable for an individual to hold than a single detached home with an artificially watered yard, but it’s a luxury that consumes more resources than at least 6- out of the world’s 7-billion people could ever dream of.

Earth Day happens to fall a few days after my birthday, and the books were paid with gift cards that still have more money on them for when I want to buy more. It’s justifiable, then, in many minds that I make a big purchase around Earth Day, or that other people make purchases for me because it’s not my fault I was born around this date. My brother’s birthday is tomorrow, so I bought him material items and that should not be taken into consideration when evaluating my environmental efforts around this day of the year. But it’s the materialism of our wealthy society that creates the expectation of material gifts around individuals’ birthdays. I have not chosen to give that up. And I take responsibility for that.

So, on this 43nd Earth Day, instead of sacrificing luxuries that I take for granted throughout the year, I will instead just thank this planet for providing them – for providing the paper to print books, the sustenance for human life to develop and create things like books, for the beans that became the free coffee I got today, and all the bits and pieces that built and power the bus I am getting on shortly. I know for my own comfort I am using you, Earth, but I am trying to use you wisely.

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