Friday, April 16, 2010

The Yoga of Sustainability


It is not the case that we can just spend our way out of this environmental crisis. Yoga also contends that seeking fulfilment through grasping, through seeking material accumulation with no practical need is futile, and will cause more emptiness or stress then joy. When we buy that new thing, the joy is often quick to fade into boredom, regret or general disappointment. If we still identify with the falsification that owning material objects is equal to owning more happiness, then we'll then covet, desire and possibly buy, some other non-esential thing, repeating this cycle.

But, we do need to buy things sometimes. Food and cleansing agents, and at certain times, tools, refrigerators or clothing. There are a couple items unique to them which each person needs to feel good about themselves and have a proper sense of wholeness, that are otherwise non-essential. Too many people don't know what these items are for them because they just buy everything they want indescriminately and consider these "creature comforts" essential.

This is the problem. We have a uniquely disposable consumer culture. Never before have we ever ignored or applauded such waste. And never before have we had so many insecure, depressed or anxious people either. The two are correlated- the rise of the capitalist ideal of owning the biggest pile of stuff as a sign of status & the empitiness remaining when the newest object isn't new and exciting. So much in our lives is considered meaningless and disposable that our lives seem a bit less meaningful too. We've learned to get all of our self-worth and joy from objects, others or our external appearance. Since these will never provide lasting joy, they are inevitable sources of dissatisfaction.

So what we need to do is question our consumer habits. We must assess our true need- & what we are really seeking. And if we decide that a purchase is truly warranted, we have a duty to inform ourselves with objective and accurate sources how and where we can obtain that product in a manner that does not support & condone negative environmental, social and ethical issues. If we like it or not, in our country, what we spend our money on is seen as a vote for more of the same. Packaging and labels are not there to help us make informed choices about what we purchase, they exist to compel us to buy. That's it. And its everything the label doesn't say that is usually the most important information.

THE SIN OF OMMISSION: Here is listed some of the most nasty hidden facts. While these are generalizations in each category, they are HIGHLY COMMON & often nearly the rule unless specifically addressed on the packaging.

ANIMAL-TESTING: assume all make-up, beauty products like shampoos, contact lenses & solution, and even cleaning chemicals have been tested on animals, and not nicely. Make sure these products have explicitly been labeled "no animal testing".

CHILD-LABOR: unless your chocolate bares the Fair-Trade certification or specifically addresses it, assume that workers are not fairly compensated for grueling hours of labor and more of these workers are likely to be children then you think.
Also buy Fair-Trade red, black, green or white teas as well.

UNCALLED FOR RAINFOREST DESTRUCTION & UNFAIR PRICES: buy shade-grown coffee, since coffee naturally loves to grow under the rainforest canopy, but is often grown in clear-cut forest areas. It does not make sense. Coffee also can be bought Fair-Trade or organic, both ensuring fair prices & proper environmental resect.

EXPLOITED CRAFTSMEN: buy only fair-trade indigenous art and handicrafts from foreign countries- especially those in Asia, Africa & South America. Make sure these artists were compensated fairly for their hardwork.

SWEAT-SHOPS: assume all clothing & footwear not made in the US, Canada or EU and all manner of objects made in China especially to have been made by underpaid workers in unfair, unsafe factories. Buy American made to vote for more jobs in the US and less outsourcing to foreign countries.

SAVE POUNDS OF CHEMICALS FROM BEING DUMPED ONTO THE EARTH: buy only organic cotton, because cotton is heavily pesticided. Bamboo is an eco-friendly wood alternative, but the process to make it into clooth is chemical & energy intensive. Hemp is a very earth-friendly clothing fiber- not as water hungry as cotton. Organic clothes cost more, but we are used to sweatshop labor prices. Buy sweatshop free hemp or organic cotton or secondhand clothes. Do research before trying new eco-friendly fibers to make sure they are truly friendly.

JET-SETTING PRODUCE & DISAPPEARING FARMS: if your going to buy non-local out-of-season produce, such as Californian organic strawberries in Winter or otherwise non-local produce, such as South African oranges, keep in mind that your produced was either trucked or flown into the area, from possibly 1500, or many more miles away. Truck transport is bad enough for the environment, flying is even worse. Eat local & seasonal produce from your local farmer's market-pay your farmer the money he deserves for his work-instead of him getting 4 cents of the dollar you spend at the grocery store. Support your local farmers.

CAFO MEAT, MILK, AND EGGS: remember that you can assume that all dairy products, eggs and meat at fast-food joints, restaurants and most if not all at your chain grocery stores came from CAFO'S- not your local farm. Always choose local animal products. Know what farm your food came from. If you truly cannot afford local animal products go vegan, eat only home cooking and pack your lunches. You'll be healthier, it's much cheaper and there are numerous recipes online to help you.

TOXIC OUTGASSING: unless you buy specifically zero VOC products or find a green wet-cleaners, assume that paints, plywood, particleboard, wood paneling, carpets/carpet pads, insulation, finishes, solvents, adhesives, air fresheners, dry-cleaned garments, synthetic fabrics, cleaning products, body care products, art & hobby supplies, mothballs, insecticides and aerosol products are putting dangerous volatile organic compounds into the air we breathe. These can make you sick. They are poisonous. Eliminate them or find alternatives.


After considering the above specific situations, here are a few more general guidelines:

DO YOU REALLY NEED IT? Honestly, can you repair or repurpose what you already have or just go without it?

IF YOU REALLY NEED IT, HOW CAN YOU BUY IT WITH THE LEAST NEGATIVE/MOST POSITIVE ENVIRONMENTAL & SOCIAL IMPACT? Buy it second-hand. Buy locally grown or made. Purchase 100% recycled paper products or use cloth (old clothes make great rags, cloth napkins, cloth diapers, cloth wipes). Buy organic, fair-trade, shade-grown and or biodiverse. Buy in bulk with the least packaging possible. Glass is better than plastic- try & avoid plastics as much as possible. Make as little trash as possible and try & reduce what you have to recycle- lowest total waste.

BUY HIGH QUALITY, TAKE CARE OF WHAT YOU HAVE, DISPOSE OF IT RESPONSIBLY. Buy things that will last, don't buy disposable or poorly made items. Respect what you own and treat it with care, helping it to last. Fix or repurpose broken items. Donate, pass on, share whenever possible. Recycle properly all appliances, electronics, paints, chemicals, batteries and compact flourescent lightbulbs. Never throw these things into the trash.

Applying mindfulness to our consumption will greatly reduce our burden on the planet, save us time and money, prevent stressful clutter, and possibly improve our health and well being. Mindfully making wise purchases can help us to positively impact farmers and artisans all over the world, voting for fair wages & humane standards in factories and fields. We can support local farms & the local economy.

However, to do so, we must walk the talk. The capitalist system never turns a blind-eye to the almighty dollar. Every single dollar we spend counts. Every single one votes for what we want. Like it or not, this is our reality. So we cannot ignore the burden of responsibility. Our dollar can vote for what we believe is right or what we loathe, but the choice is ours when we make EVERY purchase. Put your money where your heart and mouth are. Use your power wisely at all times.

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