I Drank Bottled Water and No One Died

When I say I hate bottled water, I’m not kidding. I hate everything about it. I hate the plastic bottles it comes in, that are engulfing the planet. I hate that it’s one of the worst yet most successful marketing hoaxes and eco travesties ever perpetrated. I hate that it’s got so many people thinking they can’t just drink tapwater; can’t prepare drinking-water supplies for a hurricane simply by filling a few big wine bottles or milk jugs from the faucet.

I’ve often said that in order to accept a drink of bottled water, I would have to be stranded in the desert and about to die of kidney failure. And since a bottle of bottled water would not be likely to appear in such a scenario, it is likely that I’d be able to uphold my virtue all the way to the grave.

But, the other day, I caved. And I wasn’t even out in the middle of the desert! I was helping out at a Juneteenth event, it was a broiling hot day, and I couldn’t find a faucet to refill my steel water bottle. And so, after about an hour of trying to tell myself there was no reason for me to be all that hot or thirsty, I broke down and took one of the plastic bottles of water that had been provided for volunteers. I opened it. I drank it. Over the course of the day, I consumed three bottles of bottled water. And felt guilty as hell, and utterly disgusted with myself.

Now, when it comes to refusing bottled water even under the most challenging conditions, I have always prided myself on exhibiting the superhuman stoicism of Lawrence of Arabia:

T.E. Lawrence : [Lawrence pours in some water] You do not drink?

Tafas : No.

[Tafas shakes his head like saying no]

T.E. Lawrence : I’ll drink when you do.

Tafas : I am *Bedu*.

[Lawrence pours back the water in the tincup to canteen]

At that Juneteenth festival, though, I forfeited my Bedu credentials. Oh, the shame!!!

Later, back home, I realized the whole drama had been completely avoidable.

One, I am always telling other people not to feel guilty when they end up having to violate their eco standards in order to get their basic needs met. I could take my own advice; that would be an option.

And two, knowing how I feel about bottled water, I could be sure to always keep a gallon jug of water (or two) in my bicycle panniers before setting out for an event on a hot summer day.

Easy-peasy! How did I not think of that before? What happened, I think, is that I had built up a bunch of anger and frustration about various little things, and not stopped to handle that anger and frustration. And, as often happens, the anger made me stupid. Once I cleared my head, solutions became obvious.

By the way, speaking of plastics, welcome to Plastic-Free July! According to Veronica Penney in the New York Times “Climate Forward” newsletter, Plastic-Free July started in Australia about a decade ago; it has become a worldwide thing; and last year, about 250 million people signed the pledge to reduce their use of plastics.

Further Exploration:

Definition of “Manichaean” from wordsmith.com (a great site to bookmark if you love learning new words, and/or doublechecking that you correctly remember a definition of a word that is in your passive but not your active vocabulary): “Of or relating to a dualistic view of the world, dividing things into either good or evil, light or dark, black or white, involving no shades of gray.” (Visit the link to read about the definition and get some usage examples.)

The Story of Bottled Water: If you want to know why I find bottled water so odious, watch this 8-minute video by Annie Leonard (acclaimed creator of The Story of Stuff).

A Good Zero-Waste Group — “Zero Waste Zero Judgement”: I joined this Facebook group to fill the void created by the shutdown of the Journey To Zero-Waste group, and now that I’ve been reading the posts for a few days, I can wholeheartedly recommend it to you. Unlike J2ZW, this group ZWZG 1) allows posts related to #BlackLivesMatter and racial bias (as long as they also relate to pursuit of Zero-Waste); and 2) allows, with prior approval, self-promotion posts; and also does a “self-promotion thread” weekly. (Please be sure and read the rules before posting! Getting to promote our sustainable/regenerative cottage enterprises is a privilege we don’t want to lose!) One of the recent posts that caught my eye as being helpful to a wide audience, is a post asking people for suggestions on alternatives to bottled water, from a woman whose husband works construction and doesn’t trust tapwater.

Plastic-Free July website: info, resources, take the pledge, take the “Pesky Plastics” quiz, and more.

What To Do When No One Will Listen To You

Switch people: If no one will listen to you, maybe you’re trying to talk to the wrong people. Find other people. There’s more than one way to the top of the mountain. And, government leaders may be officially in charge but they don’t have all the power.

Switch channels: If no one will listen in person, try writing letters. Or posting on social media. Or blogging. Or radio. (It’s not all that hard to get on the radio as a guest if you have something worthwhile to convey, and can do it in a coherent and rational manner. If no one wants you as a guest, call in to the show. Or, get podcasting equipment and start your own podcast.)

Switch tones: If no one will listen, it could be because your tone is persistently whiny, derogatory, too loud, etc. As frustrating as it is to not have anyone care what you have to say, strive to maintain a calm, strong, peaceful tone.

Switch mentalities: stop thinking of yourself as “poor me” “a person who is never taken seriously”; etc. Instead think of yourself as persistent, diligent, tough, a person offering great resources, a voice for the voiceless, a force of nature like dripping water that will always find a place to flow.

Tag experts: If you can’t get anyone to listen, write a post on social media and tag a recognized expert in the area you’re talking about. Or write a letter to the editor, making reference to an authoritative source. Link to expert books/articles; boost experts. If you have something to say, back it up with information that’s already out there.

Call on people as centers of influence: “You are a leader in the community. I could really use your help getting this idea out there. Will you help me?” Flattery is OK as long as it’s true and for a good cause.

Switch modes: Instead of trying to talk and push your solution, listen. Learn what’s bugging people. The solution you’re trying to offer might not be the right one for the time and place. But by listening to what’s on people’s minds, what their priorities are, you will be in a better position to offer an idea, resource, or solution that meets people right where they need it. And whether or not you can solve someone’s problem, listening from the heart is a kind, compassionate act. Furthermore, switching to full-on “Listen” mode for awhile can be a great relief for us activists. Pushing to make oneself heard is exhausting!

An Additional Approach To Reducing Your Footprint

When we think of “reducing our footprint,” the first thing that comes to mind is setting out to reduce the use of something. Use less water, use less electricity, and so on.

Which is great! But if we try to do too much of that approach all at once, it can start to feel like being on a diet! Always having to “count calories.” Fortunately, there are other kinds of actions we can take to reduce our footprint, that don’t require us to focus on “cutting” something. The cuts come naturally in the course of taking the action (or inaction, as the case may be!).

Here are just a few examples:

Dilute your dish liquid and liquid hand-soap with water. The bottle can last months or even a year or more, and the product still works fine. I’ve been very surprised at how much I can dilute a liquid detergent and have it still work. This not only saves detergent but also drastically cuts down on the consumption of plastic bottles. A bottle of dish liquid that might have lasted me a month in the past, can now last a year.

Skip mowing your yard. Skip it every other time; leave part un-mowed; skip it permanently and turn your whole yard into a meadow. Lawn-mowers and associated grass-grooming equipment can use huge amounts of gasoline. Free up your time and labor for something fun.

Skip an event you don’t really want to go to. If it’s a social event, express your friendship with a card. If it’s a meeting, write up your comments by email.

Fall in love with thrift/vintage clothing, and make it your default if you haven’t already. The production of new textiles and clothing has a huge footprint.

Turn one night a week into family nighttime adventure walk night. Turn off your house lights and entertainment devices and head out into the neighborhood on foot! Enjoy your discoveries.

Skip cooking dinner, and just make a cold picnic supper with food that’s already in your fridge or on your shelves ready to eat.

Go for an overnight camping trip in your yard. Same as the adventure walk, the idea is to turn off the lights and electronic entertainment devices, and have an “acoustic” evening. Pitch a tent, sing songs, tell jokes and stories.

Go “shopping” in the recycling bins on your street. (Note, in some areas it is illegal to remove stuff from other people’s bins.) One neighbor’s trash can be your treasure! Containers I find particularly useful include thick square plastic buckets, thick plastic detergent bottles, large peanut-butter jars. Bonus: Many times an “empty” detergent container will contain enough liquid for several washings! The key is to add water and shake, so the detergent is thinned out and can be poured easily. Then once the bottle is cleaned out you can put it to other uses. I have an excellent dustpan that I made by cutting up an empty detergent bottle.

Walk away from an argument. Be it on Facebook, in person, or somewhere else, arguments consume a lot of resources. Decide it’s OK not to have the last word. Walk away and go do something else — something fun, productive, kind, or all of the above.

Walk over and introduce yourself to your neighbors. Besides being the friendly thing to do, and being good for neighborhood security, it also promotes sharing of resources. If my neighbors and I didn’t know each other, we wouldn’t be able to lend/borrow tools, carpool, share food — all of which reduces one’s footprint.

All of these actions might seem small, but they add up. And, since they are done at the personal and household level, they help shift our cultural norms away from unnecessary consumption, and toward thrift, sharing, friendship, and creativity.

Work Smart, Not Hard

A fellow activist, who works diligently to promote urban tree-planting, just sent out an email to let people know there are grants available to assist with replacing historic oak trees that have been lost to hurricanes or other causes. He attached a document with a list of government agencies. While I am all for any mechanism, department, organization, etc., that promotes tree-planting, it strikes me that this approach is a lot of work. Finding the right grant, filling out the application, waiting to hear back.

Meanwhile, the ironic thing is, baby oak trees can almost always be found growing in profusion underneath the mama oak. We just don’t always see them because they get mowed down as part of routine landscaping maintenance.

All we need to do in order to have an infinite chain of successors to old oaks, for free and with little or no work, is quit mowing underneath big oak trees, and let the fallen leaves accumulate there as mulch. The baby sprouts will turn into saplings; some will emerge larger and stronger; and then, sometime after the mother tree eventually dies, one of the young ones will become the next big oak.

Our dominant culture seems to specialize in creating solutions that are a lot of work, for problems we never should have had in the first place. But there’s a vast storehouse of wisdom available to us from other times, other cultures, if we just tune in.

One of my favorite maxims is, “Work smart, not hard.” I learned it in permaculture design class, and it helped me feel less guilty about being what I always thought of as a lazy person. Turns out I’m not lazy; I just have an extreme aversion to what I see as unnecessary work.

One of my permaculture teachers told us that unnecessary work is a form of pollution. When I thought about it, I found multiple layers of truth in this statement.

• Unnecessary work costs money, burns fossil fuels (even if it’s just the food-energy required to perform a manual task)

• Unnecessary work has an opportunity cost of human energy and attention: What worthwhile task might have been accomplished with the time and attention that was spent needlessly mowing under the oak tree, raking/blowing the leaves?

• Unnecessary work is self-perpetuating: Performed by government departments and other authorities of mainstream culture, it becomes normalized as “the correct practice”

• Unnecessary work hijacks creativity and imagination that we need right now to create and manifest a vision for a greener, more compassionate world

Can you think of some other ways in which unnecessary work is a form of pollution? And, looking at the example of the mother oak and seedlings, what other examples do you notice around you, of nature doing the heavy lifting and providing us with what we want and need, for little or no effort on our part?

Quality Entertainment

Today Facebook’s memory bank dished up yet another thing I said a few years back, and don’t even remember saying:

“The best artists and entertainers aren’t the ones who make you forget about your own life, but rather, the ones who inspire you to dive more deeply into it.”

I’ve pasted this quote here because it’s very relevant to the “grassroots green mobilization.” We have created a culture that makes people very inclined to feel the need to escape and forget. And that isn’t sustainable.

Fortunately, we all know artists and entertainers who fit the more enlightened definition. Visual artists, musicians, gardeners, storytellers, artists in the medium of life.

Your homework assignment for today, should you choose to accept it, is to pick one (or more) of your favorite artists/entertainers of the “inspire you to dive more deeply into life” variety, and treat yourself.

Update Sunday 6/28/20: Well, this post proved timely. In my local paper this morning I read that people are buying mass quantities of fireworks for July 4th, since the official public celebrations have been canceled. “People are starved for entertainment,” a guy buying fireworks was quoted as saying. (Boldface added by me for emphasis.) And I realized how true that is for a lot of people, with sports competitions, bars, theme parks, concerts, and other popular forms of entertainment having been shut down.

For some of us, the “normal” world probably feels too saturated with entertainment of the louder, splashier variety. I know it feels that way for me. I often find music in a bar to be too loud; I find the proliferation of TV screens in public places to be exhausting; I cannot imagine wanting to set foot in today’s theme parks.

But, reading that article reminded me that entertainment is a basic human need, and we all need some kind of entertainment. The challenge for each of us then becomes finding entertainment that is available, not too expensive, and is somehow restorative.

I have to admit, I notice myself experiencing a new form of mental fatigue from the volume of work-related webinars and videos I’m feeling the need to take in. I’m craving some entertainment to balance that out. I may have to try the public library, which I hear has reopened.

And a little earlier this afternoon, I noticed that a part of my driveway now has midday shade (from a palm tree that has leafed out since last year when there was no midday shade in the driveway). I sat out there for a little while and watched “Yard TV,” which at this time of day mainly consists of our hardy lizards and technicolor grasshoppers. I felt a renewed appreciation for how these creatures, and the plants, could just sit there under the blazing sun going about their business, and presumably not need any “escape” or diversion. THAT was entertaining to me, in an uplifting way.

Not to say I don’t love some cable TV though. I don’t have a TV but love watching certain shows on occasion with a neighbor. Dexter is my current favorite. And when my Mom was alive and I went to stay with her for a couple months to help her out, she and I loved watching Criminal Minds together.

You know what the best entertainment is, though, overall? Just, simply, a fellow human being to talk with. That is the most robust form of entertainment. It stands us through power outages, pandemics, hurricanes, long nights in bus stations. I don’t think I’m alone here when I say I am probably experiencing a deficiency of human company. Even though I’m quite an introvert.

It’s good to be aware of the need for human companionship. Old people in nursing homes are refusing food, refusing to get up, and so on, because their grandkids are not allowed to visit them. (I saw an article about this in my Facebook feed, from AARP.)

Some old folks are telling their families, in effect, Screw it — please just get me out of this place; I don’t care if leaving the facility might shorten my life; I just want to be with family.

That, actually, strikes me as a sane and healthy attitude. I am pretty sure that is how I’d feel if I were in that situation.

What’s interesting to me is how long it seems to have taken our modern mainstream society to come back around to the realization of what’s really most important in this world: our connections with each other. Something that humans in simpler times and less affluent places always knew. Well, better late than never, that we are coming back around to this awareness.

Use Your Influence

Several years back, Pope Francis caught the world’s attention by speaking out on climate change. More to the point, he was speaking out about the fundamental human crisis of which he sees climate change as but a symptom. (I share this view, by the way, and I bet lot of you did too, even before he said it.) The Pope is able to use his high position to get his message out to millions of people in a flash.

Now, in this great news event of the Pope speaking out on something that really matters, there’s a bonus lesson for each and every one of us. You and me. We’re not the Pope, but within some sphere of our lives (our family, a circle of friends, a colleague or two), we each have as much influence as the Pope. It might be ten people or five or even just one, but each and every one of us has some circle where we literally have as much influence as the Pope — or more. So, my challenge to you today (and from now on) is, Use your influence to speak up about something that matters. Be your own pope. Even if your sphere of influence doesn’t include any people other than yourself … then, be the pope of your own mind. Issue an encyclical to yourself to remove one veil of self-deception and muster the courage to take action. Choose to out yourself to yourself about something that matters.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I also think that our lives begin to really BEGIN, the day we START speaking up about things that matter. Even one little thing. Pick one today. And then keep going.

I love you, my readers, and thank you for joining me on this journey! (By the way, each time you speak up on social media, or talk to a neighbor, or write your elected officials, or write a letter to the editor — you are speaking as the “pope” of your many unseen followers who you may never meet or count, but they are there and they’ve been waiting to hear from you. Your words could be that final piece they needed to hear in order to go into action, either by joining an existing tide of forward motion or by forming a new one.)

Cultural Roots of the Eco Crisis

In my book DEEP GREEN, published in 2017, I called out North American consumer culture as the culprit of ecosystem degradation and social/economic injustice on this planet. And, I called on my fellow North Americans as being the ones who could lead the change.

Now, from my present-day perspective, with an increased awareness of systemic racism, I realize that what I meant, specifically, was that Anglo-European North American culture is the prime culprit of ecosystem degradation and social/economic misery on this planet. It is the dominance of AngloEuroNorthAmerican culture that has caused our human footprint to be so outsized as to render us capable of destroying entire ecosystems and extinguishing human life on this planet (taking who knows how many other species with us).

Speaking as a person of Anglo-European descent, I say the above not in the spirit of woeful self-flagellation, nor performative penitence. Rather, I say it because WE (the same culture that started it) CAN FIX IT. Our culture has spread all over the world. Now, by our deliberate choice, we can spread a culture of deep eco-awareness and deep compassion, which will come to underlie more and more of our daily choices.

Note, this is nothing personal — in the sense that it’s not about beating up individual AngloEuroNorthAmerican folks. And, it’s not even about beating up AngloEuroNorthAmerican culture. It’s about recognizing where our culture has taken a wrong turn away from connection with nature and with fellow beings, and then each doing our part to help shift that culture back to nature-connectedness. And THAT is where it gets personal in a GOOD way.

Because my book is addressed to AngloEuroNorthAmericans as the ones who need to lead the change, does that mean I am seeking to ignore Black readers, or other people of color who might read my book? No way!

To any Black person or other person of color who has read my book or followed my blog, or has found this post: I am truly honored that you are here, and I hope you will find my writings helpful to you in achieving your personal and planetary goals.

By addressing my book to my fellow AngloEuroNorthAmericans (“AENA” for short?), I am simply acknowledging that MY culture (white North American) started the problem, whereas Black and indigenous cultures were originally sustainable, earth-centered, & regenerative, before the AENA influence colonized them and took hold. And, because of the political, social, and economic oppression wrought by systemic racism, I am in no moral position to tell people of color they need to reduce their eco footprint.

That said, if you are a person of color who has arrived here because you want to find out more about how your seemingly small daily choices as a citizen/consumer can help the planet (while also benefiting you personally), then I am thrilled to welcome you, and will support your quest in any way I can. (And by the way, fellow white people take note: Numerous research studies have shown that there is a significantly higher percentage of Black people and other people of color in the USA who are concerned about the environment, than white people who are. Not surprising when we consider that communities of color tend to be disproportionately affected by pollution and other environmental issues.)

This post is a work-in-progress. I’m still finding my voice to speak up about this thing called systemic racism that needs to be spoken up about, as a first step to rooting it out. And at the same time, noticing how and where stepping up my anti-racist study and practice can intersect with my environmental activism; my efforts to spark a “grassroots green mobilization.”

Anti-racist study resources: Special thanks to Diversity and Resiliency Institute of El Paso for its Anti-Racism Training webinar. And to Robin DiAngelo for her book White Fragility (a book that has become a bestseller, even edging out a blockbuster pop-fiction title — something that gives me renewed hope for humanity). And to countless bloggers and other writers of African or other indigenous descent who have done the work of shining a light on systemic racism, which white privilege might otherwise allow us AENA folks to avoid ever acknowledging. Two of the writer-activists who have expanded my mind the most are Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ally Henny. All of these resources and thought-leaders have helped me become more aware of systemic racism, and how to address it in the world and in myself.