Why Bother?

This evening as Jody and Ava were out running an errand for me, I attempted to cook dinner while balancing a miserable Julian (due to his four canine teeth coming in at the same time) on my hip. After much fussing (on Julian’s part, not mine), I took a break from cooking, sat down on the couch, flipped on the TV and, hoping to make the poor boy feel a bit better, nursed him.

In skipping through the channels it became clear to me why I rarely watch TV (with the exception of The Office, LOST and occasionally Oprah). There was nothing on. I stopped on the local public access channel long enough to hear someone talking about global warming. My interest was piqued so I lingered.

veg-garden.jpgIt turns out it was a woman reading Michael Pollan‘s recent New York Times article “Why Bother?” For those of you unfamiliar with Pollan, he is the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food – neither of which I have read yet, but I’ve heard great things about both.

“Why Bother?” is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’m nowhere near the point of throwing in the towel with regard to the things I do to help the environment, but after reading an article like Enjoy life while you can’ – Climate science maverick James Lovelock believes catastrophe is inevitable, carbon offsetting is a joke and ethical living a scam and watching a YouTube video (which has since been taken down) about Monsanto, you might start to get a little jaded and wonder if all of your efforts are in vain. At least that’s where I’ve been at.

Pollan’s article “Why Bother?” was exactly what I needed to hear (and then read in full on the web since I missed the first half of it on TV) to help lift me out of my funk and I highly recommend you read the whole thing. Here’s just a bit of it.

If you do bother, you will set an example for other people. If enough other people bother, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand. Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in the culture. Driving an S.U.V. or eating a 24-ounce steak or illuminating your McMansion like an airport runway at night might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience. Not having things might become cooler than having them. And those who did change the way they live would acquire the moral standing to demand changes in behavior from others — from other people, other corporations, even other countries.

Pollan goes on to suggest “find one thing to do in your life that doesn’t involve spending or voting, that may or may not virally rock the world but is real and particular (as well as symbolic) and that, come what may, will offer its own rewards. Maybe you decide to give up meat, an act that would reduce your carbon footprint by as much as a quarter. Or … for one day a week, abstain completely from economic activity: no shopping, no driving, no electronics.”

He also discusses how doing something as basic as planting a garden to grow even a little of your own food could make a big difference. This is another thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. As the price of food goes higher and higher and we worry more and more about where our food comes from, organic vs. conventional (pesticide-laden), genetically-modified organisms, carbon emissions and climate change, it makes sense to me to try to grow some of our own food.

Pollan says, “It’s estimated that the way we feed ourselves (or rather, allow ourselves to be fed) accounts for about a fifth of the greenhouse gas for which each of us is responsible.” Yikes.

I don’t have a lot of experience in gardening, but I did help my mom in our family garden as a child and, three years ago, some friends and I had our own plot in a community garden. As I embark on growing my own garden for the first time this year, I’m thankful for my friends like Julie of Chez Artz and Green Artz, Melissa at Nature Deva, Heather at A Mama’s Blog, and Woman With A Hatchet, who all have more gardening experience than me (and will hopefully help me out if I need it – hint, hint). I’m planting a small garden not only for the food it will provide to me and my family and to reduce our carbon footprint, but for the experience it will provide us all. Someday in the hopefully not too distant future (like next few years) once we move into a different house with a larger (and sunnier) yard, I’d love to have a much bigger garden. I’d like to know that if push came to shove and we needed to grow some of our own food, that I could do it. I am concerned that that day might not be too far off and Pollan agrees. “If the experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these (growing our own food) are skills and habits of mind we’re all very soon going to need.”

But Pollan doesn’t end his article on a downer. Rather he is hopeful and his message is uplifting.

The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.

So, why bother? Because the future of humankind depends on it. Even if by some stroke of luck climate change doesn’t affect us during our lifetime (wishful thinking), I would hate to leave this huge burden and mess for our children to clean up. After all, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” – Native American Proverb

I think Pollan answers the question of “why bother?” best when he says,

Going personally green is a bet, nothing more or less, though it’s one we probably all should make, even if the odds of it paying off aren’t great. Sometimes you have to act as if acting will make a difference, even when you can’t prove that it will.

Here, here. That is why I will keep on bothering. And I hope you will too.

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39 thoughts on “Why Bother?

  1. Oh I know how you feel, I just keep on reminding myself that every journey starts with one step, and that every mass action is made up of many individuals. Now if we could just get the many individuals on our side!

  2. You will do brilliant at a small home garden. I have very little space (no yard only a reasonable balcony on our flat) but was able to grow carrots and tomatoes with my son a few summers ago. I think this summer I will make the effort again to grow, if nothing else, tomatoes because he seriously enjoyed watching and eating them. They are so much easier than I imagined and my thumb is far from green.

  3. Have you seen Gardenaut?

    http://www.gardenaut.blogspot.com/

    It is from the people behind Z Recommends and Prizey. They have bloggers from each of the zones from the continental US and a Garden Planner that you can personalize according to your zone and other neat tools and resources. I am living in an apartment in Seoul, so I haven’t done much with it, but it looks neat. Might be some good ideas for your garden. I am thinking of venturing into a small balcony garden after we get settled here.

  4. Thanks for the great post. I am going to check out Pollan’s entire article now. I sometimes feel that way too, but know that I have to keep doing what I can. I am planting a vegetable garden for the first time in 6 years, in an urban city lot. You can do it too. There is plenty of information on gardening. Good luck.

  5. I’m so glad you posted this. I’ll definitely read the article (and I’m currently reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma). I’ve been alternating between feelings of discouragement at the little bit of difference one person can make and outrage at the seeming lack of concern among others for months now. This is just what I needed to remind me why I’m trying to live a less wasteful, more conservative and mindful life – whether it ends up making a difference in the grand scheme or not. Thanks again!

  6. Great post, Amy!

    Honestly, that was my reaction to that Al Gore movie (name escaping me…mama brain + no caffeine = dumb as a rock ;) ) – we can all bend over backwards making changes but as long as corporations and governments keep making poor choices none of what little me does matters. Except it does to ME. It’s the right thing to do, it enriches my life and my children’s futures, it makes me feel good. There is value in that. And maybe enough of us doing it will make a difference in a large scale too!!

    Happy gardening!

  7. Thank you for this post. I have been thinking the same thing lately. Why bother? It gets so overwhelming sometimes. I planted a herb garden this year so we will see how it goes. I am also in the process of reading In Defense of Food. I really like Michael Pollan. Thanks again.

  8. Oh, don’t give up. I used to be one of the worst, going about my wasteful life and making fun of crunchy people like you. :)

    But the more I read about it – on your blog, over at BlogHer and in a few other places – the more I am inspired to change at least some of my bad habits and become more environmentally responsible.

    So there. You affected at least one person. You can’t give up now! :)

  9. Heading over to read the article now.
    Growing your own food will make you feel like you are “doing something” to make a
    difference. Good luck with it!

  10. Acting “as if” doesn’t only apply to being environmentally conscious. Nor does taking small, positive steps in various areas of life. It’s about self and it’s about setting an example for our children and those around us, no matter how seemingly small. Imagine if we all acted in a positive way “as if” we wanted peace, an end to war and suffering, an end to world hunger, better relationships with our loved ones. If we all acted “as if” we wanted those things, I bet we’d soon have them.

  11. A wise woman once shared this with me: act as if what you do makes a difference because it DOES!

    Keep on keepin on girlfriend…you’re changing me little by little and I’ll change someone else little by little….one person at a time will do the job.

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  13. Amen, and Hallelujer! I will definitely have to look into the article. Great post. It’s not easy being green. Just remember that each person adds up!! Self sufficieny is wonderful. The idea of knowing it came from your own efforts is a huge reward alone. Plus, all the benefits for the planet and our health. It’s hard to convince others to “go green” a little prodding doesn’t hurt, right?…lol! For me it’s in my heart… and when something’s in your heart no-one can change THAT!!

  14. Quite honestly, I don’t know if individual efforts make too much of a difference in the overall scheme of things. I read recently in a study that was in the newspaper, that just ONE forest fire in CA makes more greenhouse gas than all of the cars, trucks, trains, factories, pollution, etc combined. It said something like if every person in CA drove a hybrid car, ate organic, etc., the damage one forest fire causes to the environment, wipes out any “green” efforts people are making.

    I personally don’t know if humans cause as much damage to the planet as reported at times. Ever since time began, the earth has undergone climate changes. What caused the earth to exit the last ice age? Humans weren’t even around then. I have read that some scientists think dinosaurs became extinct because their climate changed- it got too cold, and again, no humans were around then. Some reports I have read from scientists say the earth’s temperature can cycle up or down between 2-4 degrees. Is this bad/good? I don’t know. I like to believe the earth does what it needs to do, to sustain life. We constantly change and evolve- I don’t think it is a stretch to believe the earth does too.

    Obviously everyone has their own personal thoughts on this, but no matter what they are, I firmly believe that we should do as much as possible to make the earth better and do things individually to cut down on our consumption and stresses to the earth. I think we should be good stewards of our earth. There is no excuse for trashing the planet, like so many big industrial companies do (e.g. dumping their toxic waste into rivers, etc.)

    Even though it can become discouraging sometimes, if you believe in what you are doing, for whatever reasons you have for doing them, then you can’t go wrong. Personally, I try to just do what I feel is right for the environment. Whether or not my efforts contribute to the overall grand scheme of things, I don’t know yet- but they certainly can’t hurt. But I do know that whatever we can do in our own little lives, does make our neighborhoods, towns, and cities- our little corner of the earth cleaner, and hopefully greener.

  15. I bother ’cause it makes me feel really really good. It slows me down, helps me appreciate what i have and how I live my life in a way I could not before I started living personally green. I still need to work on some stuff, but i have noticed a huge change in society. It is cool.

  16. Why bother?

    Good question and honestly I think it can be a bit over whelming when you look at the “big picture.”

    I just think it makes sense to start making small changes that you can live with. They don’t need to be big, like using reusable bags instead of plastic. But little things you can live with. Then, start to broaden what you do.

    Even if you’re not worried about “Global Warming” you should be concerned about the environment and wanting to preserve it. No one wants to look at litter, pollution, smog, etc…

    I don’t believe we’re “beyond hope.” I just do what I can and hope everyone else will too. What I am willing and able to do may not be as much as some, but it may be more than others.

    Great post Amy

  17. Great post!!
    You’re right. Each little small thing counts because every person is doing their little small thing and it all adds up.
    We plan on, when we buy a house, having a little garden, both flowers and food. Gardens are gorgeous and a great teaching tool for little ones :)

  18. This is great, Amy. Thanks for inspiring us to keep “bothering.”

    For what it’s worth, I was a mindless consumer until my latter 20s when a new friend “bothered” to introduce me to the devastation humanity had wreaked on the environment. So yes, keep on bothering, folks!

  19. Excellent post. Though I do take a slight offense at the line from Pollan about driving an SUV. As someone who drives a Ford Expedition and goes through a tank of gas once every two weeks, give or take, I have to say it’s about time folks started discussing driving habits and choices a lot more heavily than just make and model chosen. We were looking to downgrade into a smaller vehicle – and strongly considered a hybrid – until we learned that the freeway mileage we get in our driven once or twice a week Expedition is just as good, if not better, than the smaller vehicles we looked at.

    I consolidate errands, and only run errands/shop about once a week. I live within walking distance of a grocery and small shopping area where I can even hit the UPS Store for mailing things. I telecommute and homeschool (thus eliminating the “drive me to school” issue) and I don’t warm up my vehicle unless we live in an area where it’s somehow gotten covered in a *lot* of snow. Whenever we go somewhere that we know other folks will want to go (homeschooling events, family outings, etc) we don’t just tell them about the event, we invite them to ride WITH us. I frequently fill my 8 seats by sharing with another family of 3 or 4! :-)

    I know plenty of people with compact cars who use more gas in a week than I use in two months, just because they get “such great mileage” that they don’t think about wasteful habits.

    I’d love to see intelligent writers like Pollan publicize the fact that any idiot can buy a Prius and still *NOT* have green habits. *wink* For some weird reason the folks in my area seem to think that driving a smaller car makes them super green – as they drive across town just because they want a cup of coffee from one particular barista, then back across town for groceries, then up the other side for a mall trip…. yeah, you get the point. haha

  20. ok… Now I’m scared… but that’s what you want.. but I’m always scared about this stuff. I have my fingers crossed for a great garden this year… I’m thinking all the time about one small step.
    I love how when you sat down to nurse, this came.

  21. See now, you’ve beaten me to the post again! I had just read Why Bother? on the weekend after finding the link at Green Bean’s and wanted to do a write up, but here you have done a fabulous job already!

    Yes, I will absolutely help you put together a garden this year or whenever you are ready! It’s a lot easier than you might think and if you need to, you can do a lot of it in containers on a sunny deck. Or in the front yard, if that’s where your sun is! There’s a house in my neighborhood where the owners are growing their tomatoes by their front steps in big containers, because that’s where the sun is! You can do it too!

    And I’ll even be at the Market next weekend, assuming the weather stays warm enough. Tomatoes don’t like temps below 65 degrees when they’ve been raised indoors for the last 2 months! And boy do I ever have a lot of tomatoes!

    Now I must read all of your comments, because many of them looked fascinating.

  22. Remember eating green beans right off the plant? Mmmmm. I am still planting a little garden and have some tips for you before you do yours. Good post-thanks for sharing. I will check this book out.

  23. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this. My husband keeps trying to tell me that it doesn’t matter — that we’re totally screwed already — and that waste/trash, etc. isn’t the problem — water is the problem.

    While that may be true, I keep saying, “Every little bit helps.”

    And now I have something to show him that I’m right!

  24. Thanks for this great post!!! Sometimes it is hard to remember that our actions, however small, influence something or someone – no matter how small. I am going to read the article right now!!

  25. I read the same article, and was inspired to expand our home garden. My husband’s got more of a green thumb than I do, but I’m going to try to do my part – and at least not kill anything. We’re trying to figure out the best things to grow in dry Denver, and we ordered some things from Seeds of Change to get us started!

  26. Rock on! I wish you luck in your gardening adventures. I think you’ll find that Colorado is pleasantly friendly to the home gardener. It always brings me joy to see the fruits of my labor.

  27. Best of luck with the garden! We’ve been doing that for a few years. Last year went great. This year’s off to a rough start, but we’re working on it.

  28. Great post girl and exactly what I needed! Feeling a bit jaded about some stuff, especially the garden because it is a lot of work and I just find it so hard to give it the time it deserves.

    Hey – my fav green gardening pest control is Neem granules. They are great for cutting down sucking/chewing pests. And it’s an organic control. No with holding period so FAIK.

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  33. I agree some videos on youtube are harrowing and can suck the fight out of you.

    “Why Bother?” is often a question raised by the weary, but if we didn’t bother who would be left to take up the slack when so many things are going wrong in the world. Every little bit helps, never give up!

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