This post was written by Judith A. Ross:
Try this. Lie down on the ground and look up at the sky. Relax your muscles until you feel the earth support your weight. If you are lucky enough to be in a quiet place, you hear birds singing, insects buzzing, or even trees as they rustle in the breeze. As you stare at the sky and watch the clouds moving overhead, you become so connected to the earth you can almost feel it spinning on its axis.
Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh asserts that turning this feeling of connection into an everyday mind-set is the key to saving our environment. “The earth is us and in taking care of the earth, we take care of ourselves,” he told Joe Confino, executive editor for The Guardian. “We should not think of the environment as something apart.”
He’s right, of course: when we pollute earth’s air, we also pollute our own bodies. In fact, everything we do, from driving a car, to building a house, to buying a pair of jeans impacts the air our bodies need to survive.
Hanh suggests that we take a hard look at our consumerism. Does our happiness really rely on buying more and more stuff? Can’t we repair what we have, or purchase a recycled appliance, for example?
And what about all the packaging that comes home with us when we shop at a big box store? It’s great that we can recycle cardboard, but its production releases sulfide dioxide into the atmosphere. Then, what happens to that appliance or piece of furniture when it breaks, wears out, or we want to swap it for something new? What chemicals went into its creation and what toxins does it release into the air throughout its lifespan?
The more we think of ourselves and our planet as one interconnected being, the more we realize how much our daily activities impact its health and our own.
As individuals, we can work to change our consumption habits and try to buy from environmentally-friendly companies.
Hanh cites Patagonia as a good business model for lowering consumption.
Patagonia focuses on getting the full life out of its clothing with its Common Threads Initiative. Following the four R’s, Reduce, Repair, Reuse and Recycle, the company strives to curb clothing consumption by making high quality, more durable garments, offering free repairs, and providing assistance in donating and trading clothes.
This policy is a step toward what authors William McDonough and Dr. Michael Braungart call cradle to cradle design. Mimicking the cycles found in nature, cradle to cradle design considers a product’s full life cycle — from creation with sustainable materials to a recycled afterlife. In their book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, they offer a human-built model that mimics the cycle of a tree.
“The tree makes copious blossoms and fruit without depleting its environment,” they write. “Once they fall on the ground their materials decompose and break down into nutrients that nourish microorganisms, insects, plants, animals, and soil. Although the tree actually makes more of its ‘product’ than it needs for its own success in an ecosystem, this abundance has evolved (through millions of years of success and failure, or, in business terms, R&D), to serve rich and varied purposes.”
McDonough and Braungart suggest that through thoughtful design, human production activities could enhance the earth in the same way the tree does.
Increasing our personal awareness and making individual changes all contribute to cleaner air. But new habits take time to develop, and we can’t rely on organizations to adopt green practices voluntarily if they think their financial bottom line is at stake. We must demand that they do so.
So while we are cutting down our individual contributions of air pollution, we also can take action that will have immediate, positive consequences for our planet. We can join with others and keep the pressure on our leaders in Congress.
Together we can wake them up to what most moms already know: You ignore your Mother at your peril!
“In Buddhism we speak of meditation as an act of awakening,” says Hanh. “To be awake to something. To be awake to the fact that the earth is in danger and living species on earth are also in danger. And that should be a collective awakening in order to have enough strength for a change.”