I took a class in college, “Ecology and Textual Forms,” taught by Talia Field, a woman so smart it hurt. On the first day of class, she asked us to write down our “fields of care.” This was Brown University and a small seminar populated mostly by MFA poetry students. We all grew quiet and earnest. I remembered this moment of heavy scribbling when I saw an image yesterday of a dead dolphin being pulled out of the Gulf of Mexico near Grand Isle, Louisiana by Mandy Tumlin from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Upon seeing the lifeless Bottle-nosed dolphin, one of my “fields of care” exploded, the eco-magnetic field that breaths and drinks and loves its habitat. The beautiful gray arcs, the smooth sweep of flipper, and emptiness of eye of that Trusiops truncatus blew some sort of gasket inside of me. My biophilia ignited like parts of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. I can’t continue to pretend like the eruption of oil into the Gulf doesn’t cut into my animal soul like so many shards of glass. And so, I’m doing what I know how to do. Write a bit and tear holes in the shrouds of denial I’ve draped over my deep-seated, long-held eco-understandings.
Today, I start a carbon cleanse. This blog will probably only last the length of the carbon cleanse, which will run one week. It is borrowed from Colin Beavan, aka “No Impact Man,” and his “No Impact Project.” Colin attempted to live in the middle of Manhattan for a year with little to no impact on the planet. It was a simple premise, executed publicly through a blog and a documentary. I admire his grit and persistence in the face of the naysayers, ignorant and excessively educated alike, that he must have had to shrug off. The guide I am following can be found here: http://noimpactproject.org/experiment/.
I am starting a week-long commitment to not buy anything, except for essential foodstuffs (and associated health items, like medications). I am including gum, extraneous energy drinks, tickets to sporting or other events, and fancy coffees in this category. I usually don’t purchase much, as a sworn eco-geek and cash-strapped graduate student, but this weeklong pledge takes it one step further. No sitting in coffeeshops feeling trendy, hip, and righteous with my fair trade locally roasted decaf soy latte as I tap-tap-tap away on my laptop, expounding on the wonders of Persuasion Theory. Even fair-trade organic coffee packs a pretty big carbon punch (see http://www.hrnstiftung.org/carbon-footprint-coffee.html), and my ADHD neurotic self sure doesn’t really need to be more wired than I already naturally am. Even though it’s finals week, I’ll work on making sure I get enough sleep and eat well to keep energy levels going and, for workspaces, I’ll hit the public or University library instead, or grab the free WiFi offered by some of the parks in the city where I live, find a friend’s couch to use as an office away from home for an afternoon, or buckle down and just work at home.
I’m prepping, too, for a hectic week by making some whole grains that I have in my cupboards, preparing granola from other dry goods stores, preparing a “lo-impact” food kit with reusable containers, bags, a handkerchief/old t-shirt cuttings, and reusable cutlery. I’m checking farmers’ market schedules, to see when I can pick up food that won’t come wrapped in three layers of plastic from 1,500 miles away. I’m working on making pretty recycled paper from old paperboard boxes, and found object art from Styrofoam. I’m thinking strategically, too, about how to get around this week, checking bus schedules and making sure I have air in my bike tires. I refuse to succumb, if only for one week, to the fast, cheap, and out of control lifestyle that sings us all to sleep every day in modern America.
I’m sure I’m going to get a lot of shit from people about being a “hippie,” or a “granola kid.” It’s those seeming innocuous comments that kill my drive to be carbon cleansed and “green” (I hate that trendy term, for the record), that make me turn away from my field of eco-care, that add up over the days and weeks and months and years, that say, both implicitly and explicitly, “you are different,” “you are odd,” “you don’t fit,” “why can’t you just be wasteful and have a fun, disposable time like the rest of us?” “no one can really make a difference,” “we’re screwed anyway, why bother?” “you have to consider yourself first,” “there are other people, experts, scientists, policymakers, activists, all working on this already, you don’t need to do anything,” and, “you’re self-righteous and hypocritical, look, you own a car, you live in the most wasteful country in the freakin’ world, you can easily consume more than most of the people on the planet before you even get to lunch.”
And so, this weeklong “low-carbon” adventure begins. Going to take it one day at a time.
post-script: the name for this blog comes from Garrett Hardin’s iconic “Tragedy of the Commons” essay, as well as recent news and blog coverage of the Gulf Spill. Ecological calamities, especially the particularly snarled and tangled ones we face in the 21st Century, will require more than technological fixes. BP’s multiple failures to contain the deep sea oil geyser over the past several weeks speaks volumes (or millions of barrels) to this reality that, in the end, our technologies alone, or “quick techno-fixes” will not save us (see http://www.garretthardinsociety.org/articles/art_tragedy_of_the_commons.html and http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/30/weekinreview/30rosenthal.html?hp).