"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”

Henry D. Thoreau




Going Green Is Like Eating Your Vegetables


By Jeff Wheeldon

Our culture hates hypocrisy. That’s usually a good thing, but there are times when we’re too quick to judge. This is especially true when someone holds to an ideal - particularly an ideal we don’t share - that they don’t quite live up to. As an environmentalist I have drastically reduced the amount of meat I eat, I try to drive less (and “drive green” i.e., do 90 instead of 110 whenever I think of it), I consume less (and more thoughtfully), I recycle more, etc. But when I advocate for transitions away from fossil fuels, I regularly receive comments like “so, did you ride your bike here?” or “if you don’t like fossil fuels, you should never drive your car ever again.” My imperfection, in their eyes, allows them to write off even the biggest and most effective changes I’ve made to my lifestyle. It seems that, at least to them, I’m a hypocrite unless I’m an off-grid vegan living in an earthship who doesn’t burn an ounce of oil.

But that’s (nearly) impossible. We have to drive for almost everything in rural areas, recycling isn’t always available, vegetarian options are extraordinarily rare on menus in southern Manitoba, virtually all clothing is made in southeast Asia and likely in sweatshops, etc. Incremental, small changes may be the best that we can do, and that exactly is the point.

There is value in having an ideal because it presents us with a perfect picture that we can then try to achieve in an imperfect world. We’ll never achieve the ideal, but we can use it as inspiration to do the best we can. But the impossible nature of an ideal seems to spur us to dismiss that ideal as irrelvant – usually when we’re intimidated by the changes it seems to demand of us. We get ourselves off the hook by presenting difficult change as an all-or-nothing proposition.

A better way of looking at an ideal, and particularly as it relates to transitioning towards a sustainable lifestyle, is to compare it to eating your vegetables. We all enjoy eating and all need to eat. We all know what a healthy diet looks like and none of us eat up to our ideal (did we need Christmas to remind us of that?). The same principles apply elsewhere: you don’t need to go cold-turkey (pun intended) on eating meat to have a major impact on your diet’s footprint - you can reduce it drastically by simply eating less meat and choosing grass-fed beef. You don’t need to stop driving altogether, but carpooling makes a huge difference, and you get the best fuel efficiency driving between 80 and 90 km/hr. You don’t need to grow all of your own food, but you can buy locally, or at least in-season items. Small changes add up over time, and imperfection calls for improvement rather than apathy. Every little action counts, in quality as well as quantity. Challenge yourself: pick one small change, and stick to it for at least a month. Then add another, until you're an idealist!

Jeff Wheeldon was Provencher’s Green Party candidate in the 2015 election.


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