When I’m not hugely pregnant, I am a very fast walker. I do not like to wander. I like to zip in and out of slower pedestrians, feeling my lungs fill with air and feeling my legs hit the pavement with purpose. One of the best parts about quitting smoking was the way the air felt in my lungs, the depth of my breaths and really concentrating on how it felt to walk instead of fumbling with a lighter or cigarette pack. In particular, I remember the first long walk I took after quitting, from Chelsea to Times Square, and how amazed I was that a few days after quitting I could already feel the difference. I do not like walking behind other people unless they are similarly paced to me. It makes me anxious and irritable, an irony when you live in city chock-full of other people who tend to walk as though they have absolutely no intent of getting anywhere, and often 6 abreast so as to block the entire sidewalk.
I mention this because it wasn’t until I moved to NYC that I noticed how important it was to me to get from one point to another in as purposeful a manner as possible. Until there were people blocking me from my destination for no reason other than they simply weren’t paying attention to the situation around them, I had no real reason to notice that my pace didn’t match that of the people around me, and especially how much I was irritated by their slowness. As a result, I do my best to avoid heavily congested areas and high-traffic times of day whenever possible. You will never catch me in Midtown on a weekend unless I have to be there.
Before we bought this apartment, I had begun my foray into making my own cleaning supplies, using recycled paper products and around 25-50% of our food was organic. I had a few ‘X Ways to Go Green’ books that I tried to follow. Mostly, I was concerned but not really aware of how to make the biggest impact. It seemed fair enough to take the baby steps since baby steps were what I had access to.
When we bought, I tried to incorporate some bigger steps into our lives. We opted to buy our own appliances in exchange for money off of the purchase price which enabled us to go with basic, EnergyStar varieties. We decided to replace our kitchen floor and did so with cork, which is sustainable but also could be installed over top of the existing linoleum. We chose plumbing fixtures based on water usage. These are all good things, and I’m glad we did them. We could have done more–low-VOC paint, skipped out on the crown molding, kept the existing tile which was ugly but functional–but in the end I think we did an ok job of balancing out eco and financial considerations. Our cork tile will never save the world, but it’s better than some of the other options.
The thing is, a lot of the choices we make are like the cork tile. They don’t do as much as we’d like to think they do, but they aren’t as bad as some other things we could choose. When we make these choices, we aren’t blocking the entire sidewalk while we walk, but we also aren’t really paying attention to the people walking around us either.
I spent a few years feeling very happy with my low-flow toilets and washable mop head and compact fluorescent bulbs. I wasn’t stopped, you see. I was moving along, I knew I had to keep walking, and soon I had checked most everything off of the ‘X Green Things’ list. I started looking for more I could do, and found myself pretty well stopped. I couldn’t inflate tires on a car I didn’t own. I didn’t have access to a water heater to wrap. And, worst of all, I couldn’t plant a tree to shade my a/c (really, I would still love to be able to do this and we barely even run the a/c anymore.)
Round about Earth Day, newly pregnant and inspired by some bloggers I was reading, I began to take serious stock of what we were doing as a household. Shortly after, I signed us up for a CSA. Not long after that, it was suggested that I try a worm compost bin, and I ordered one of those. Then came Low-Impact Week, and from there I learned about the Riot for Austerity. As I crunched numbers, a 90% reduction seemed feasible, if only in a handful of the categories (gas, garbage, consumer goods, food, electricity.) And, even better, it gave me a reason to break out into a full pavement-pounding stride instead of the wishy-washy amble I’d been getting by with.
Since June 1st, I’ve had triumphs and disappointments. I’ve written many times about how much I more I wish I was accomplishing and many times about how surprised I’ve been at our progress. I like being beyond baby steps. The air tastes better when I’m walking full pace. I’m pretty sure we can come close to a 90% reduction by next June in at least a couple of categories, and I’m pretty sure that our carbon emissions are going to stay right around a 90% reduction when we get there.
The fact is, baby steps are not going to do much to change anything. They feel good for a while, and get us ready for bigger steps, but eventually even babies let go of the coffee table and go rip-tearing through the house. But much like it doesn’t make sense to go after your toddler with a riding crop to teach him to walk faster, it isn’t fair to judge people for taking small steps that they are comfortable with unless they have shown no intent of ever moving on to the next step. There is a pretty big split in the environmental movement between people at differing stages of their eco-awareness, and it’s frustrating to watch sometimes. I know where I am now, and I know where I was 4 months ago, and I know how many choices I’ve made in an attempt to reduce my impact on the planet (many of which I never thought I’d make). It’s not that I care more now than I did then, it’s that I know more now than I did then. There are still a million little decisions I make that may not make a huge difference (and most likely don’t make a huge difference) but I still do them. I just do bigger stuff too. And there are those out there who do even bigger stuff than I can dream of right now, but hopefully in 4 more months I’ll be that much closer, and so on. A lot of this is because of the people in the movement who are supportive and accepting of those of us who aren’t at their level yet.
Don’t get me wrong, there needs to be a huge shift in behavior, both of individuals and of industry, especially the American corporatocracy for whom there is no emergency that cannot be solved with money. And I do believe that this shift has to happen quickly. I just don’t want to see the people who are still learning and figuring out how to best make their contributions made into pariahs of the movement simply because they’re coming to the table later than others of us.
As I lumber toward my due date, I am constantly frustrated by how slowly I’m moving, both when I try to walk someplace and in my reduction progress. I still want to get there yesterday, and I don’t like when anything gets in my way, especially when I’m the one getting in my own way. I’m trying to learn to walk in my own footsteps, slowly but still on the same path. It’s a good exercise I think, remembering that not everyone is at the same pace. At the very least I am seeing how frustrating it can be to have people zipping past you when you’re going as fast as you can.