My Environmental Failings

Sorry for the long time between posts. I have been blazing through the third novel in my middle-grade time travel series trying to hit my self-imposed deadline of July 15 for a first draft. I’m just past the 70 percent mark and the end is in sight. Well, more accurately, the 85,000 word mark is in sight, which I hope will be the end of the novel, but sometimes it’s hard to tell--story arcs being not quite as predictable or malleable as I would like. As a result, I’ve been a little focused on daily word count lately. (Okay a lot focused, and it is possible that I may have also fallen into a few Internet ratholes, and spent a bit too much time taking borrowed dogs for runs, on occasion. It is summer after all.)

Just to let you know, my story from the Tales from Pennsylvania anthology, “Resistance,” is now available as a single for only 99 cents. It's set in Michael Bunker's world of Pennsylvania and was super fun to write. I think it's pretty fun to read as well, so check it out.

Robin Miller and her husband, Isaac, a strip-club owner, eke out a decent existence in New Pennsylvania—until the morning when Isaac announces that, for their own safety, they must leave the City with their two young sons and return to his Amish roots in New Canada. Although Robin and Isaac couldn’t be more unlikely candidates to become Plain People, they work hard to gain acceptance into the Amish community. Yet even as her family settles in, Robin fears that Isaac hasn’t told her everything about why they’re really there…

In addition, “The River,” my time travel love story is now free on Amazon. Those of you who are subscribers to my blog probably already have it, but if you have a friend who would like to check out my writing for free, send them on over.

Why I Write about the Environment

Photo Credit:  David Goehring  / flickr /  Creative Commons

Photo Credit: David Goehring / flickr / Creative Commons

Those of you who read my writing know that it often has environmental undertones or outright environmental themes. My day job (when I work, which is most of the time, but not always) is as an environmental researcher, and I do a lot of climate change related projects. In case you don’t believe me, here’s a link to a climate change indicator literature review that I actually did. (Sometimes I don’t believe it myself as I'm often more at home in my writer persona than my researcher persona.)

There are lots of reasons I include environmental themes in my writing. I write about environmental issues because I know a lot about them, because they’re important (because we’re giving the environment a s*#t-kicking and it’s our life-support system), because we need to change the way we live, and most of us need a little knowledge and encouragement (both of the gentle and scare the crap out of you variety), because I love the natural world, and because there's a lot of scope for story about environmental issues (because there are so many conflicts and uncertainties relating to how bad things are and what we should do about them).

I also write about environmental issues because there is a critical role for fiction in addressing the environmental crisis. As David Brin, author of The Postman, Earth and now Existence, noted, fiction and movies can scare people into acting to prevent worst case scenarios from coming true more effectively “than a thousand arguments or demonstrations.” I would like to think that by exploring environmental themes through fiction, I can make more people talk and think about their own choices that impact the environment, and potentially make different choices. Because if everyone else was making better environmental choices, I might do better myself!

So, in the spirit of Confessions of a Failed Environmentalist, I decided to do a post about my biggest environmental failings. Even though I work in the environmental field, I do things that aren’t great from an environmental perspective and justify them in various ways (or sometimes I don’t justify them, I just live with the guilt). Many of us don’t like to air our environmental dirty laundry, but I think the more everyone talks about their own environmental failings, the more we can also talk about the things we do right, without making each other feel uncomfortable or seeming self-righteous. And the more we can talk about our environmental practices, the more we can make environmentalism accessible and people might feel comfortable working to reduce their environmental footprint instead of hiding it. I think, anyway.

My Biggest Environmental Failings

So what are my five biggest environmental failings? Note that these are listed in order of what makes me feel most guilty, not necessarily what I know to be total impact.

1) I eat meat almost every day and generally eat beef twice a week.

This is a biggie, and in terms of overall impact, this is definitely my biggest environmental offense. According to a recent study, eating beef contributes massively to carbon emissions and I would be better to give up my burgers than my car. I have tried buying only organic meat, but it was very expensive and sometimes not tasty. I also tried being a vegetarian, but gained a lot of weight, as my body seems to run better on some meat. I am completely allergic to fish, so that is not an option and some other fairly serious food allergies and sensitivities significantly limit my other food choices. So sometimes I feel stuck with meat, and I’ll be honest, I really like meat (especially bacon).  I do try to buy some organic meat and try to minimize my meat portions. But it is still my biggest environmental failing.

2) I colour my hair.

From an environmental footprint perspective this might not be a huge failing, but the unused and rinsed out dyes do go down the drains and enter ecosystems. There are also health risks associated with dying your hair (and honestly after reading about them a bit for this post I'm thinking of giving up dying my hair yet again). I started going grey when I was thirty-four and have tried just letting my hair go grey many times and in many ways (highlights, semi-permanents, cutting it off, just letting it grow out) but it looks pretty dreadful (as it is not a uniform grey) and it makes me feel old. I end up going back to the bottle every time. But wanting to look young doesn’t fit some of the principles of environmentalism in terms of what’s really important about a person (hint: it’s not our looks), so I consider it a pretty big environmental failing. I absolutely completely applaud those of you who have decided to just go au naturel. I am working on it!

3) I don’t always recycle everything.

Of course I recycle cans, jars, hard plastics, paper, and corrugated cardboard that can go in the curbside recycling. I also reuse plastic bags and take used toys, books, clothes and household items to the Thrift Store. I compost most of the time, but not when the fruit flies or bears get out of control. But I don’t recycle my soft plastics and a whole array of other stuff for which there is no blue box (there is just so much packaging on everything), and sometimes when recyclable food containers are really gummed up with something, like mold and other strange growths say, I throw them away because I have to wonder if the water required to clean them before I put them in the recycling exceeds the environmental benefit of recycling. But this is probably just me justifying. Even though I do a lot of recycling, the amount of garbage we produce scares me. I could definitely do better.

4) I buy too much stuff.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t buy a crazy amount of stuff, but let’s face it, we probably all buy too much stuff. I like nice clothes, although I try to keep that very under control. We all ski and my kids like stylish clothes too. I'm also very cognizant of the fact that stuff at this point is the center of the economy, and there are a lot of people in my small town who make their living off of selling stuff. I try not to by too much cheap, throw-away stuff and I never go on shopping sprees, but over the years, I somehow seem to have accumulated a large amount of household stuff. My stuff, although mostly well-used and aging, is still a lot of stuff. I also find that the more I work, the more inclined I am to buy stuff, because I can afford it more easily and because I don’t have as much time to consider where I could find alternatives, or make things myself. So there’s another reason for me to quit my job (ha ha!). I know many booklovers do not love Kindles, but at least my Kindle has dramatically reduced my book ecological footprint.

5) I waste too much food.

I like to cook and eat, but somehow we don’t always manage to quite use up all the food we buy. Sometimes we make too much and there are leftovers that linger until they become unidentifiable furry objects. There are always those few crackers in the bottom of the box that go stale, the potatoes that rot in the cupboard, or those chips or granola bars that nobody liked. In Toronto, the average family throws away 270 kilos of food a year, and I am sure we easily hit that mark. That doesn’t even cover the amount of food that is wasted before it even gets to the grocery store. I’m working to improve this, but still have to get better at making the right amount of food, and not buying those quinoa crisps that nobody likes.

So there you go. Those are my biggest environmental failings, or at least the ones I feel the most guilt over, which is probably related to the fact that I think they are also the ones that I could most easily change. Some honourable mentions include using the air conditioning sometimes when it is stinking hot here, skiing (which I love, but it’s not the most eco-friendly sport), not hanging my clothes to dry, and flying once every year or two for holidays (which if we’re honest, is really bad for the environment, but travelling is just so hard to completely give up). I also do a lot of good things too, like growing some of our food, using cloth grocery bags, eating mostly organic, keeping the thermostat low in the winter, and limiting my driving. But I still don't think I qualify as an environmentalist.

My novel, Confessions of a Failed Environmentalist tries to address these kinds of environmental failings in a lighthearted way. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I tie myself up in knots about things that I could be doing better. I know there are those who claim that the biggest environmental impacts are by corporations and other countries and that my steak and new skis have little relative impact, but I’m not sure. I still think lifestyle choices, especially those of North Americans, play a big role in the environmental crisis, and fiction can play a role in bringing some of our habits and the difficulties of living a truly environmental lifestyle to light, and helping us to potentially change them. Maybe.

If you like what I have to say sign up for my mailing list and check out the great freebies that I have to offer. I'll be posting about craft next week. Until then it's all about the daily word count.