Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Selfish Environmentalist

When I started this blog, I decided it would focus mostly on Canadian politics and environmental issues - those being the two subject areas that tend to interest me the most. So far, I've really only focussed on politics, but I attribute that to the recent election here in Ontario. The more I think about it, though, the more I think that this blog should remain what it is - a commentary on social and political issues in Canada. Environmental issues are very often connected to the social and political issues we face here, so I am certain that there will be frequent mention of these issues on this blog, when appropriate and relevant. Since environmental issues are local, national, and global, I've decided to keep this blog focussed the way it is, and simply start another blog dedicated to environmental issues. It can be found here. Below is the first entry:

As a member of the Green Party, I was recently asked to complete a survey for a university student studying members of environmental organizations. This student is attempting to figure out what motivates people to join environmental organizations, as well as identify what beliefs and values members of these organizations have in common. It was a pretty long survey, and it really got me thinking about just how much my mentality has changed since I started to take an interest in environmental issues. It also reminded my why I became interested in the first place, and I realized that, rather than just diving into writing a blog about environmental issues, that it'd probably be better if I first explained how and why I became an environmentalist in the first place. So here it is:

I didn't become interested in environmental issues until my wife was pregnant with our daughter, Olive. Before her pregnancy, I was very much aware of the environmental issues that this and future generations will have to face, but I had convinced myself that there wasn't anything I could do about it - that I might as well just live my life like every other average person. I figured that the sooner the human species wiped itself out, the sooner the planet could start healing itself. 

Becoming a parent changed everything for me. 

Becoming an environmentalist was purely accidental, however. 

While my wife was pregnant, I began voraciously reading every piece of literature on children's health I could get my hands on. I was pretty nervous about being responsible for the life of another human being, and figured that since knowledge is power, I'd better start arming myself. The more I learned about the toxic chemicals that we expose ourselves to every day, and their impact not only on ourselves, but on the environment, the more I realized how desperately things needed to change. I guess you could call me a selfish environmentalist. Yes, I care about polar bears and the boreal forest, but first and foremost, I care about my family's health. The beautiful thing about it, though, is that it's all connected. The same things that are bad for our health are bad for the environment. There's no separating the two. Canadians consistently rank health care as their number one priority (economy takes the top spot when there's a recession), but the environment is lucky to make it in the top five. This baffles me. The greatest health care is preventative, and we could prevent so much sickness and disease by protecting the environment that surrounds us. Imagine how much health care costs could be cut if the government would ensure that our air and drinking water were cleaner, or that the foods we consume weren't filled with unhealthy additives or coated in pesticide and fertilizer. We are animals, and like every other animal, our health is connected to the health of the environment we live in. By healing the planet, we heal ourselves.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

So my wife was pregnant. Her hormones were all out of whack, she was nervous about becoming a mother, and on top of that and all of life's usual daily stresses, here I am educating myself (and her) on all the countless ways we're killing ourselves (and our unborn child). I'm sure she was just delighted. I'm pretty sure that she also thought I had lost my mind, especially when I announced that our home was going chemical-free. Luckily, she came around quickly. She's still not too keen on the idea of getting composting toilets, but once again, I'm getting ahead of myself.

We started small. First we purged - got rid of all the toxic cleaners and cosmetics. I started making cleaning supplies from scratch, using ingredients that won't kill the planet or a curious toddler. My wife realized that she had way more make-up than she needed, and replaced the "essentials" with healthy alternatives. We replaced our shampoo, conditioner, soaps, deodorants, shaving lotions, etc. with chemical-free, earth-friendly alternatives. Believe it or not, we're cleaner for it, too. There's nothing clean about lathering yourself up in carcinogenic, hormone-disrupting chemicals. 

It kinda ballooned from there. We started avoiding plastic as much as we could, we started cooking more, instead of relying on additive-, pesticide-, and fertilizer-soaked foods, and we replaced our clay cat litter with a biodegradable pine litter (it's more absorbent and smells better, too). I'm sure I'm forgetting numerous switches we made (oh, switching to unbleached, 100% recycled paper products was one) but the product switches aren't really the point. You can switch everything you purchase over to an earth-friendly version and still be contributing plenty to climate change. The most important thing is reducing our consumption. Sounds pretty scary, I'm sure. People don't so much like the word "less" nowadays. Not in a culture where bigger and more are always better. Gotta upsize the fries you pick up in your V8 SUV on your way home from work to your 4000 square foot "house" in the 'burbs, right? We seem to have forgotten that less is more. 

Shoot, here I am, getting ahead of myself again.

So our daughter was born, just about 2 1/2 years ago. She came a month early, but we had successfully detoxified our home and our lives. My wife and I are both allergy sufferers (me more so than her) and we both have asthma (her more so than me). Any offspring we create have an increased risk of becoming allergy sufferers and asthmatics, and exposure to chemicals greatly increase those risks. So if for nothing other than for our daughter's health, greening our home was well worth it. 

During the process, though, something funny happened - I started to care about more than just my own home. I think that, like the Grinch, my heart must have grown three sizes - not all in one day, mind you, but over the course of an 8-month pregnancy. Cleaning up my home was no longer enough. After all, my children can't just stay at home their entire lives, and they certainly can't stay in my home forever (as much as I sometimes think I would like them to). And what about my grandchildren? I doubt many people in their twenties consider the lives their grandchildren will lead, but I consider it on pretty much a daily basis. I want my children and their children (and so on) to be able to live happy and healthy lives. 

And that is why I am an environmentalist. 

I'm not a hippie. I don't have dreadlocks. There aren't crystals on my night stand. I don't believe in fairies, and I don't dance naked under the moon (although that sounds like it could be fun). I still respect people who fit these descriptions, however - I just don't appreciate being drawn as a stereotypical caricature of a "greenie". I don't believe that every Conservative has missing teeth and a shotgun in the back of his pick-up truck, or that every Liberal is a pampered member of the Ivy League, or that every supporter of the NDP is a commie. Stereotypes make it too easy to disrespect and ignore each other. With the economic, social, and environmental issues that face this and the coming generations, the last thing we can afford to do is to ignore each other. The problems we face need to be acknowledged and addressed by all of us if we are to find and implement solutions to them. To work together, though, we need to actually get together - to get to know each other. I think we'll realize that we have a lot more in common than we think. And even if we don't, there is one thing we all have in common: we all love our children. I'm sure we can all agree that, as parents, it is our responsibility to protect our children's interests before protecting our own. 

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