Green Tips For the New Year

The year is young and there is still time to make commitments to create new habits. Find inspiration in Gary Snyder's poem, For the Children, and learn how to precycle.

Go Light

It is mid-winter of this New Year, 2013, and glimmers of returning light make each day a little longer. As winter’s dark stillness receded, I pondered habits and motivation. Sometimes I am motivated by statistics and yet often I despair and go numb when I hear them. I am just one person, what can I do? Why bother? Is there a deeper motivation to keep me going?

Then my mum sent me an article on resilience from the December 2012 Commonweal newsletter with this poem by Gary Snyder (Turtle Island, New Directions, 1974, used here with the author’s permission). It spoke to my musings.

For the Children

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us.
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light

Stay Together

For a long time I wanted to write a blog with tips for creating less waste and living sustainably. I was excited to hear about Sustainable Fairfax’s Zero Waste Project and volunteered to be on the committee. They encouraged me to start this blog on Patch. My fellow committee member, Jahya Burke, is also blogging on the Patch. Her first blog tells about her own supportive community. Read her blog here. Who is your community? Who supports you?

Learn the Flowers

When I get overwhelmed by all the bad news about our environment, I try to remember the words of Indigenous Grandmother, Maria Alice Campos Freire. We are all flowers. It reminds me that I am unique, with gifts and work to offer, and am part of a larger community with their own passions and tasks. What are yours?

Precycling and a Simple Practice: Precycling is a way of reducing waste by avoiding buying items that generate waste. It requires remembering to take a few moments before you purchase something to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I need it?
  • Is it over-packaged?
  • Is it in the single-use packaging?
  • Can the packaging and item be recycled?
  • What am I going to do with it when I am done using it?
  • Is the company committed to sustainability and social responsibility?

Changing our habits takes time. It takes desire, attention, and commitment. In her book, Mindfully Green, Environmental Studies Professor Stephanie Kaza combines her years of teaching with her practice as a Zen Buddhist. Starting with the concept of reducing harm she offers the following questions. They take the precycle questions to a deeper level:

  • What do I actually need?
  • What is my fair share?
  • How do my choices impact the food available to others?
  • What is the cost of my waste?
  • Who on the planet is affected by my…production of waste?

The Practice: go light

Here are some suggestions:

  • Use a little bit less dish soap, shampoo, or laundry detergent. If we all do this it will add up.
  • Wear an item of clothing one more time before washing.
  • Carry a beautiful cup with you for your coffee instead of using a paper one.
  • Re-use disposable bags. Start collecting a set of re-usable ones and keep them in your purse, backpack, or car
  • Share tools with friends and neighbors. Or join a club like the Marin Beekeepers that keeps bee equipment for members may borrow. (And take Sustainable Fairfax's Backyard Beekeeping class on March 2)
  • Don’t drive one day a week. Instead have an at home day to enjoy your family, take a walk, ride your bike, meet your neighbors, and learn the local flowers.

Studies show that commitments work when we make small concrete steps, name them out loud, and enlist friends to be accountable to. And when we falter, which most of us do, instead of giving up we can use it as an incentive to make our commitments stronger.

What change will you commit to? For how long? Who will you be accountable to? Please share your suggestions and comments for going light.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Patricia February 12, 2013 at 03:23 PM
Rachel, perhaps only in beauty will we be able to shift to less exploitive mentality. Thank you for such a beautiful and informative blog. My father-in-law managed an apartment building in Berkeley and became a dumpster diver. One of my favorite items he dove for is a caste iron dutch oven that I use almost daily. When we re-use old items with their histories, we are connected. It is an added bonus for our environment, one respecting materials for what they are and for where they may have been.
Rachel McKay February 13, 2013 at 05:34 AM
Thank you Julie! I have a book, by John Felstiner, whose title asks, Can Poetry Save the Earth? that ends by saying: "Can poetry save the earth? For sure, person by person, our earthly challenge hangs on the sense and spirit that poems can awaken."
Rachel McKay February 13, 2013 at 05:39 AM
Patricia thanks for your kind words and your story. I, too, place great value on the things in my daily objects that remind me of loved ones or moments in our lives.
Patrick McMahon February 20, 2013 at 06:41 AM
Speaking of daily objects that remind us of loved ones, the novelist/philosopher Marcel Proust takes it another step, where our receptivity to them gives them voice, and having voice they return to us from the death of ignor-ance and neglect: "The souls of those we have lost are held captive in . . . an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, effectively lost to us until the day, which for many never comes, when we happen to pass close to the tree, come into possession of the object that is their prison. Then they quiver, they call out to us, and as soon as we have recognized them, the spell is broken. Delivered by us, they have overcome death and they return to live with us." So, poetry plus practicality: that's our salvation.
Rachel McKay March 09, 2013 at 01:25 AM
These comments make me wonder if using items belonging to loved ones who have died helps them move on as Proust suggests. Beauty, poetry, and practicality, Marianne Williamson just wrote a piece about women and politics speaking to just these qualities and how women love them. They are missing in our current system and clearly much needed.


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