April 2008

“Green” Decisions


I’ve been “green” since before the term was coined. The book “Diet for a Small Planet” inspired me to be vegetarian in the early 70’s, and around that same time I started recycling. Back then it was much more difficult than it is now. Few stores sold yogurt, so I made my own. Soy-based meat-substitutes weren’t generally available, so I learned about combining grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. Recycling required driving across the city to a site with bins for various colors of glass, cardboard and metals. Difficulty aside, these were good things to do, and I did them heartily and enjoyably.

More recently though, it seems that the more I want to help the environment the more complicated it has become. It’s difficult to learn and apply rules, and there are so many trade-offs. Hybrid cars, but what about the battery? Fluorescent bulbs, but what about the mercury? I buy organic produce but may have to go further to find it, must pay more, and the selection is usually limited. Taken to its extreme, buying local (within a 100K-radius) would be the end of coffee, tea, bananas, citrus and, well, a long list of things; what about the positive benefits of interdependence of regions and nations through trade?

Recently someone asked me if they should wash cans before recycling them. That question surprised me, because it never occurred to me NOT to. However that may be because I formed my recycling habits back when recycling was unusual and water was plentiful.

I realize now that habits need to be re-examined occasionally to consider new learning. In environmental terms, I need to distinguish between the goal (help the environment) and the starting point (reduce, re-use, recycle – and my own addition to this list, “refuse”). I must consider: Does it help sustain our environment? Can I maintain the action? Do the long-term benefits out-weigh the costs? That is the evolving standard.

I can compare this to social situations, where I have a standard by which I make decisions. In religious or spiritual terms, that would be the message I follow. As a Baha’i I ask myself, “Does this promote unity?” Other Faiths have their own guiding principles, and their followers can decide if those principles still serve the times in which we live.

One very special principle is the “Golden Rule.” It’s been around longer than the label itself. In fact, virtually every Faith and religious tradition has its own way of stating it, and apparently none has any teaching that contradicts it.

Maybe what we need is a “Green Rule.” What if we imagined Mother Earth saying to us “Do unto the Planet as you would have it do unto you” — and then adding reassuringly “And if you do it in the spirit of unity, you’ll discover together the right way to make it work for everyone.” Surely then we’d figure out how to make “green” decisions while providing education and resources for universal action.


© Jaellayna Palmer 2008