This I Believe

By Chris Davis, Zero Waste Team member

A focus point of my life is spirituality. I know this is a heavy word and means different things to different people. To me, spirituality is the belief that there is a sacred entity intertwined in every aspect of life. Everything is interconnected and has importance to a functioning planet. On our planet everything is essentially perfect. No matter what the outcome there is need for life, death and rebirth. Because of this pattern there is essentially nothing that is wrong or right; it just is and everything is.

My beliefs are abstract to many people but if they were put into a category it would belong to indigenous beliefs. I spent a lot of time with my friend and spiritual mother, a Shaman to the region of Guatemala. Her name is Leeann and she has helped me through a lot of things, leading me to many of the beliefs I have today. Nature was always an important aspect of my life but as I grew older I became separated from it. I was suffering and Leeann help me reconnect with nature while teaching me her ways. I eventually grasped a new concept of life.

Spirituality is how I relate to the environment. I see the earth as our mother, the mother of all conceivable things on this planet. To me the land is my affirmation of everyday life, the trees are my brothers, wind is my song, and everything is sacred. The environment has been changing because of one of earth’s offspring, humans. In the grand scheme of things what people are doing is not wrong; they are implementing action that is new to the face of the earth. These actions may not sustain life for this generation of earth’s offspring. It is sad that humans are so destructive and so eager to rule whatever they can.

I believe that things were not always this way. Indigenous cultures used to be more sustainable and had intimate relations with the planet. What used to be the life of indigenous cultures is the life I am forever pursuing when I speak of spirituality. If more people follow a path similar to mine acknowledging the environment, biosphere, and life in general as sacred, there would be a great chance for humans to stop their suicide.

 

This I Believe: Meaningful, green decisions

 

Purchasing with the environment in mind.

Purchasing with the environment in mind.

By Leah Payne; Zero Waste Team member

I believe in the power of the consumer. I am a sophomore in college, living in my first apartment and I believe I can make meaningful decisions about what I buy. I think it is important to make thoughtful decisions around consumption during this critical habit-forming stage of my life. If I develop green habits now, chances are I will continue them into adulthood. I believe in being a smart consumer, where careful consideration goes into purchases, especially when the intent is to be mindful of the environment. I believe in practicing the first three ideas in Juliet Schor’s Politics of consumption from her essay The New Politics of Consumption: Why American’s Want So Much More Than They Need.

  1. A right to a decent standard of living.

Schor wants the consumer to make a fundamental distinction between what they need and what they want. Although it might seem a bit cliché, the amount of unneeded items in your living space add up quickly. People are entitled to a decent standard of living, one that isn’t focused on the next new gadget.

  1. Quality of life rather than quantity of stuff.

Consumption is not the same as well-being. The more things you have doesn’t make you a happier person. If we focus on making money to obtain more things our family, leisure, and community time suffer. The capitalist focus could also have adverse impacts of growth on the natural environment and the potentially increase the gap between classes. We should focus on a better quality of life, rather than a quantity of stuff.

  1. Ecologically sustainable consumption.

Schor says consumers know far less about the environmental impacts of their daily consumption habits than they should. When I go to the store I like to ask myself a few simple questions before I decide what to buy.

Where does it come from?

What kind of process did it go through before it reached the shelves?

What is the packaging? Is there a choice between plastic or glass? Which product has the least amount of packing? Can the packing it’s contained in be recycled?

Can you repurpose something you already have or buy something secondhand?

Who am I supporting when I buy this product?

My experience with the Fort Lewis’s Environmental Center has allowed me to express my beliefs and values because it has brought me closer with people who are contentious about the environment and given me a safe space to understand and better articulate me ideas. I have become a part of the community of people who care and push each other to consider new ways of life around sustainability. I am a part of the Zero Waste team and we are trying to assess recycling in campus housing. This experience has shown me that sustainability is not a top priority to a majority of the campus and we are going to have utilize a bunch of different strategies to make sustainability a part of the normal way of life on campus. Through this work I express what I am passionate about and figure out how to educate others about why sustainability is important. I hope that eventually the EC’s community will spread campus wide.

Announcing the 2nd annual Ecofeminism panel in honor of Women’s History Month of March w/ keynote speaker, Dr. Marcy Jung

By Michaela Steiner

A student panel focusing on Ecofeminism and the future will explore connections between environmentalism and feminism in honor of Women’s History Month. The event will be held March 11, 2014, at 7 p.m. in the Vallecito Room on the Fort Lewis College campus, and free food is being provided by Food Not Bombs! and the Sociology Club.

Ecofeminist theories will be applied to current global tribulations to produce a dynamic, inspiring and engaging conversation. The event aims to bring awareness to connections between these two distinct movements, to bring about solutions for our current social and environmental crisis and to empower students to be leaders for an inherited future.

“I am so thrilled to have the honor of facilitating this event for another year,” said student organizer, Michaela Steiner. “This event is unique because it gives students the opportunity to educate the larger Durango and Fort Lewis community and brings a fresh perspective to many environmental and social problems we face today.”

This is Steiner’s second year organizing the event, and she hopes to have similar success as seen last year.  More than 90 students and community members attended the ecofeminism event last year and engaged in an interactive discussion with student panelists.

With a new set of panelists, Steiner is sure interesting topics will be brought up, focusing on a theme of globalization throughout the entire panel.

“I’m always excited to see where the conversation goes, as these panelists are future leaders who can and will provide society with some real insight into how to move forward in a most beneficial and equitable way,” Steiner said.

A philosophical reflection of Joseph DesJardins’ “Environmental Ethics”

Many people are too consumed by artificial desires to realize the devastation our environment has come to know. Furthermore, we fail to acknowledge that this devastation is a result of our own ways of thinking and, in turn, our actions. By considering ourselves separate from our environment, we abolish the very real interconnectedness we share. However, after reading and analyzing Environmental Ethics by Joseph DesJardins, I have come to know that we can down play the destruction of our environment and ourselves. Re-evaluating our values will help us to better distinguish our needs, wants, and interests. We can create new communal models that allow for not only ourselves as humans here and now to prosper, but for future generations, not limited to humans nor biotic organisms, to grow and develop sustainably. All it takes for reducing our negative impact on the environment is acknowledging the fact that we have caused the destruction, understanding that our survival is dependent upon the continuation of a healthy natural world, analyzing our personal values, and promoting a lifestyle of respect for the environment that defines us. For many people, the necessary shift in consciousness that would allow the aforementioned steps to take place would disrupt their lifestyle dramatically. Yet, if an individual holds any concern at all, whether it be a selfish or selfless concern for the environment, it is easy to start climbing the ladder to what deep ecologists call their two ultimate norms: self-realization and biocentric equality.

Environmental Ethics By Joseph R. DesJardins

Environmental Ethics By Joseph R. DesJardins

I side with deep ecologists that “the cause of environmental and ecological destruction lies with cultural and social factors that are deeply entrenched in the contemporary world” (DesJardins, 206). Deep ecology recognizes the dominant worldviews that guide society’s decision-making, especially reductionism and individualism. I, however, will focus mostly on materialism and consumerism. On a most basic level, reconditioning our behaviors and habits is a strenuous process requiring us to weigh out rewards and punishments. It is difficult to reform habits; the best way to go about doing so is to start small and work up. In other words, begin to live a more environmentally friendly life with one-time tasks versus everyday ones: Buying energy efficient light bulbs versus starting a compost bin. Consider your options before making a purchase: think economically in the sense of “Will this benefit or harm the environment? How does the packaging of product A or B contribute to the amount of accumulated waste? Is this product beneficial for me in the long or short term?”

Another example of people manipulated by these dominant worldviews is collectors. A woman living modestly in her home is a collector of cats. Even if she is at peace with her cats, we find her idea of happiness a joke and something to criticize. What is more daunting is the part of our society that can only think about making money off collectors. We dedicate airtime to “Hoarders” who are so out of touch with real, intrinsic, value that they consume their lives with materialism and consumerism and eventually hurt those around them who are trying to help the situation. That hoarder was most likely on a constant cycle similar to the one mentioned in the mini-documentary “The Story of Stuff”(See video below.) I’m going to work now so I can buy this stuff so I can be happy and when happiness fades I will have more money to buy more stuff to be temporarily happy again. All this cycle does is bring you and the environment closer to death sooner. It calls for more resources to be depleted to produce more stuff to bring temporary happiness and long term waste accumulation. British writer Oscar Wilde portrayed the human condition of cynicism well with his words “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

The Story of Stuff (2007 Official Version)

I especially liked the way that DesJardins compared the deep ecologists’ process of identifying the underlying causes of environmental destruction to a doctor’s medicinal practice of getting to the root cause of an illness. Just as a deep ecologist or a doctor, we as individuals should practice this psychological “step back” to come to a better relationship with our own personal philosophies.

My most vivid memory of this stepping back process occurred in 2010. I had been in the Sonoran desert of Arizona for two weeks backpacking with another thirty or so students and leaders. While there, I appreciated the natural beauty that surrounded me and felt a great bond formed between myself and the landscape. Upon returning to civilization, I was struck with a great deal of unsettling contemplation; I felt like Tarzan coming to the city and thought: “What is all this noise? Why is everyone on this paved road so persistent on getting to work so they can sit there and be unhappy? Everyone seems so snobby and ungrateful, so attached to their devices that tell them important things about what they value.” I did not want to go home, nor did I want to be anywhere near what I called home because it seemed despicable compared to the nature that had enveloped me for the past two weeks. The one amenity I did appreciate once I got home was hot running water. My trip to the desert influenced me to reconsider what I really needed in life. It is unfortunate that we cannot force someone out into the wild, away from the asphalt and concrete, just so they can take that psychological step back and reconsider why they do the things they do to get the things they think they need to be happy.

“Sonoran Desert Resembling A Deep Sea Floor” by Libby Gobble, 2010

“Sonoran Desert Resembling A Deep Sea Floor” by Libby Gobble, 2010

From my perspective, people in America are very out of touch with how to distinguish between needs, wants, and interests. I wonder if a change of scenery such as my desert trip could be the solution to reducing environmental destruction by encouraging more people to question their personal philosophies. Change allows critical thinking and evaluation to take place which brings an individual closer to understanding oneself and their relationship with the natural world. It would be my hope that it would not be just a romanticist dreamscape where once nature is out of sight, it is out of our minds.

I have found through reading DesJardins’ Environmental Ethics to call everything into question in order to better understand myself and my place in the world. Most of the questions I have asked in regards to ethics are those of metaphysics and ontology: What is success? Why do we value certain goods over others? Who are we to attempt to determine who and what else has “moral standing?” Deep ecology appeals to me because it strives to answer questions such as these. Also, the process of self-realization and recognition of biocentric equality inspire me to reconsider my personal values. More specifically, I have come to question what we value as human beings and why exactly we value certain things.

What we value depends on our own personal moral hierarchies. Two distinct “selves” govern the way we choose some interests over others, according to DesJardins, “One is the self constituted by the conscious beliefs, wants, and intentions of the ego. The other self is the true nature that underlies this person’s ego” (Desjardins, 217). Materialism and consumerism are the predominant ways in which we display if we value something instrumentally or intrinsically. This would conclude that our values are determined by our ego which is constructed by the advertising and competition put in place by dominant worldviews.

In the decision making process, we must consider who we will affect by choosing one thing to value over another. To do this with ethics in mind, we must consider future generations and recognize the differences, yet vast interconnectedness of both abiotic and biotic communities as well as poor nations and wealthy ones. When we consider these three groups, materialism and consumerism seem so unimportant. The way we choose our value receiving audience is dependent upon which version of your two selves you find more authentic, promising, worthwhile, and happy. Is it the self-governed-self or conditioned-by-society self? The surface self or the underlying self? If you are selfish in your actions you are a care taker, but selflessly you are a care giver. One would think that decisions would be made in a non-anthropocentric, holistic mindset. In doing so, we view nature more intrinsically which allows for an ethics of virtue to be fulfilled.

In order to overcome these dominant worldviews, we must change radically as individuals and cultures rather than simply reform old ethics. With the knowledge I have acquired through reading Environmental Ethics, I am confident in stating that the people involved in making decisions for our country seem to be out of touch with their underlying self. Because of this, policies are being based off of false values by people who do not want to recognize the destruction of our environment, take responsibility, and acknowledge the “oneness.” In the seventies, people valued things differently than today. Consequently, we should not be living by policies from that time. Instead, our policies should evolve through time just as a species adapts alongside nature. Modern government and economics is dominated by utilitarianism. It is understandable that a Utilitarian would want to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number; however, this “good” is dominated by this out of touch way of thinking and therefore does not do the best thing every time. It is obvious that our consumerist demands affect the natural world negatively. Traditional ethics does not recognize this fact or the interconnectedness of themselves and the natural world. Thus, we need a radical shift, not an extension of tradition, to adapt our ethics to the ethical issues of today. This begins with a different view of ourselves as individuals to end the consumerist habits that tell us what we want and instead start determining who we are in character.

It depends on the eye of the beholder, but also the mental strength of the underlying self to feel motivated to re-examine personal and cultural values in order to create new worldviews. This not only includes a shift from acts of selfishness to acts of selflessness, but also recognition of the reality of environmental destruction. We need to break down this mime box that society built around our underlying self and look towards what is out of sight in order to get reality back in our mind. Therefore, in order to form a society that strives for goals with intrinsic, rather than inherent, value, we must begin showing people at young ages how to define their underlying self so that things like materialism and consumerism seem unappealing. Perhaps this includes more emphasis on outdoor recreation. Physical and mental prosperity can come with wealth, but wealth should not be the only road to success if you and Mother Earth are not happy on the journey. We created the cycle, we can re-create it, too.

By Libby Gobble, Zero Waste Team member