Wednesday, March 12, 2014

eco-lent: week 1, day 7, what i've learned this week & why it all matters

I've learned a lot this week as I've journeyed into my very own eco-lent, exploring Northwest Earth Institute's "A World of Health: Connecting People, Place & Planet" eco-challenge to be more intentional about not using plastics with BPA. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • BPA (bisphenol A) is bad for you! It's bad because it's an endocrine blocker which exhibits estrogenic activity, mimicking an estrogen cell and then sometimes causing mutations that lead to a variety of illnesses related to the reproductive systems.
  • Virtually all plastics have additives that exhibit estrogenic activity, but we should especially avoid plastics #3, #6 and #7.
  • Worst for fetuses and infants.
  • Worse when plastic gets "stressed" (sunlight, hot water, dishwasher, scratches).
  • Some of my friends already know this stuff and put it into practice. It's a little bit humbling to know I'm late to the party, but also encouraging to know I'm not the only crazy person who cares about this stuff.
  • Some of my friends are really interested in this but haven't taken the time to learn more about it, which is where I was a week ago.
  • There are alternatives to plastic water filter systems, water bottles, food storage containers, etc., such as these (thanks Meghan & Leah!):
  • I have so much to learn! I hadn't even thought about plastic micro-beads in soaps, which then go into the waterways. Also, parabens (used in soaps and cosmetics as a preservative) and phthalates (used for fragrance) are other kinds of endocrine blockers, although I don't think they're made form fossil fuels like plastic is--phthalates are. Meghan, Leah and I got into a Facebook conversation in the comments of one of Leah's posts last night and decided we're going to try to make our own soap sometime soon.
  • I haven't even really touched on plastic as a justice issue...made from fossil fuels, so we have to show our power in the Middle East so the convenience of plastic can be ours...the way plastic ends up in landfills nearby the poorest communities...the people who work to recycle all our thrown away plastic in foreign countries under terrible working conditions...the effects of plastics on fish and other wildlife as the chemicals leach into the water, not to mention pollution from the factories that make plastics...the list goes on. All I've really had time to do is to think about plastic as a personal health issue.
Overall, I'm really grateful for community that is building as I bring these things up in conversation (this conversation, here, online, and regular ol' face to face conversations, too). It seems like all these problems of how to treat the world are so huge and daunting, but then, we CAN take one small step today. We can wait for tomorrow for more ideas for the next step. That's what faithfulness looks like, and that's what we can do.

As a Quaker, I have this kind of thing in my history: ordinary people who made small choices, day after day, to live more justly, and eventually the collective change of their lives, changed the world. We can do that again, you and I!

Tonight as I was driving for just a couple minutes, a show happened to be on OPB where the speakers were talking about how to get people on board to the environmental movement. (I have no idea what this show was or who was talking, so forgive me. On the website they list that hour as "OPB Presents," where they have different programs on each week, and I only listened for a couple minutes so I didn't hear what the program was or who these people were.) They were talking about how it's difficult to get people to rally around the environmental cause because we don't have any images of it that capture our imaginations, like we did with the civil rights movement. Also, they said, we don't have any perceived enemies, because we just see ourselves as the enemy. Every time we get in the car to go visit our grandma, or get on an airplane, or throw away something after using it once, we feel ourselves to be the enemy, and we don't know what to do with that, so we ignore it.

This radio person suggested that we need to figure out who the villains are in this ecological crisis so that we can pin all our frustration on them and have a focal point for being angry at someone externally so we're willing to change.

Now, this might be good politics or a good social activism strategy, but to me this seems like the exact opposite of the way I interpret the data.

As I see it, if I am the enemy, that is incredibly good news, because I do have control over changing my own behavior.

If we all demonize others or "the system," we feel trapped and paralyzed, unable to live in a different way--at least, I know I do. But if I am personally responsible for this injustice, I can take steps toward reconciliation. I can change the course of my own history, and in so doing, provide hope to others around me that we don't have to give in to the lie that we're only one person, so what can we do?

I leave you with Margaret Mead's famous quote:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

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