The Lighter Side of Sustainability vs. The Heavier Fight Against Climate Change
I'm not going to lie; this post is a doozy, so I divided it into two parts.
The light (part one) and the heavy (part two).
So please come for the garden tour! (And this spectacular, thrifted linen Sleeper dress that came new in the bag with a card from the seamstress who personally sewed it) and please stay for the serious talk about how you can get involved in combatting climate change....
Fun pictures first!
Wearing: a Daily Sleeper dress thrifted new with tags from eBay and a Rouje scarf from last summer. Similar dress available here . Same scarf available here secondhand.
I thrifted the Daily Sleeper dress I'm wearing in these shots, but it came new in the bag with tags (as SO MANY SECONDHAND CLOTHES DO NOW) along with this adorable note (see below). I love the effort this brand puts into caring about their workers. The quality is spectacular, and I will definitely shop them new when the budget allows. They're pricey but worth it.
The Light Stuff
This summer, instead of a family vacation, we bought our backyard from our elderly neighbors. At some point, they had acquired both lots-- theirs and the area that felt like ours, because it's behind our house. We couldn't help but notice that the yard was overgrown, and they were never, ever back there. Finally, we gathered up the courage to knock on their door and ask them if we could purchase the lot. And they said yes! And named a very affordable price. For the exact cost of a family vacation, we bought our backyard instead.
We worried there was a catch, but the only thing they requested is that we not kill the family of groundhogs living back there. "We are a sustainable family," we told them. "We would never." They slowly blinked at us, and I realized how slangy and new-fangled and maybe even silly and pretentious we sounded. "We love animals," we amended. That they understood.
Anyway, I won't be taking any vacations or going to France to see my family any time soon, both because I have a zoo here (and I'm the zookeeper), but also because I'm considering pledging to never fly again (read more about that here and consider signing the Flight Free pledge for 2021 if you can here: https://flightfree.world ). I'm not going to pretend that's a big sacrifice on my part, but it felt good to make the pledge. Maybe I'll take a boat one day, but what with COVID cases on the rise, it's not like I'm going anywhere anyway.
Instead I plan to bring France to our Philadelphia backyard instead! I loved summers in my grandparents cottage in St. Aubin de Locquenay. A typical French backyard has simple, unpretentious outdoor spaces for wiling away long afternoons and a big table for outdoor dining. My grandfather also cultivated an enormous vegetable garden in his retirement. With his head of grizzled hair, his old navy work pants, and his spade, the look was not dissimilar to Peter the Rabbit's nemesis, Mr. MacGregor. Except in France, they eat the rabbits. I once saved a rabbit from the neighbor's cat in his garden and a couple years later when I saw my grandparents again, they let me know the rabbit had been pretty tasty. "Vegetarian" is not a word my grandparents understood. Let alone vegan.
Every single day my grandmother did cook a lot of veggies, though, always starting my grandfather's eye-popping eight-course lunches with a platter of olive-oil-drizzled tomato slices from his garden, followed by a side of buttered green beans. Nothing Instagram-worthy, but my memories of these summers are sun-soaked and soothing. (Apart from the fate of Mr. Black, my rabbit.) I want to recreate that for my kids. And I've always dreams of my own vegetable garden to feed us, not so much because of my grandfather but more because it's very easy to grow veggies in Philly.
Trying to fix MJ's trike that another mom neighbor left on her stoop for giveaway. MJ snapped a sneaky pic. A little peek of the yard behind me. Do you guys also love to treasure hunt on your dog walks?
The Heavy Stuff: 4 Ways You Can Fight Climate Change & Why You Should
Although I thrift most of my clothes and my wardrobe has actually become more elevated through targeted, secondhand online searches for pieces like the Daily Sleeper gingham dress above, the other day I succumbed to a marketing campaign that had been popping up on my feed in one way or another for years-- sometimes with targeted ads but also through product placement with gorgeous, stylish bloggers. The latest ad featured a marketing technique that's embarrassingly effective with me-- Hurry! These dresses are going super fast!!!!
And they were. I'm not so much a patsy as to fall for the flash sale scam on fast fashion retailer sites. The kind that pretends only three dresses are left. This campaign was more sophisticated and used popular influencers as their models. One blogger likened the experience to an Olympic event for shoppers. So I bought a dress. It arrived this week, and it's nice enough. The print is sweet and clearly photographs very well, but the marketing campaign is why the price tag for these dresses is $100 instead of $30 at Target.
I'd been commercialled. That's what me and my kids call it when we see a commercial on the TV trying to sell us a dream to fixed all our woes. An easy solution for thorny issues wrapped up in sheer plastic with a price tag attached to it. That word resonates with them, and they're more resistant to marketing than I am. I've tried to give my kids the tools I lack to navigate a landscape eager to make them believe they can buy an easy fix for any existential problem. It's embarrassing, but it's true. I am easily "commercialled" when it comes to fashion. If it weren't for my intense anxiety about climate change, I'd probably have three kids and go to Target daily. I'm an ordinary mom.
But ultimately, none of that matters. Neither my guilt, nor my sins. Even if I managed to thrift 100% of the time or only bought sustainably made garments spun of linen and flax, my individual actions wouldn't be enough to move the needle on climate change. We need to stop policing each other and start policing the bad apples aka corporations. Even if all of us globally dressed in linen and went vegan and never used another single-use plastic all our 7 billion efforts would only affect about 17% of global emissions.* The good news is only about 100 companies are responsible for 70% of emissions. However, until we place restrictions on their activity, our own activity is not going to be as effective in curbing emissions.
That was a difficult pill to swallow and part of why I stopped updating this blog a couple years back.
No wonder greenwashing is so successful-- we're primed to believe we can buy an easy solution to any problem. Or when we can't, we give up and think the problem is out of our hands. The former is not how climate change works. And the latter is equally untrue. There is no easy solution, but we still can make a difference. It's good to be aware of the issue, but to truly hold corporations accountable we can't just vote with our wallets (although I've recently also seen opposing arguments that that does help, so I'll keep doing what I'm doing. Check out this 2018 conversation between Vox reporter Gabby Del Valle and Richard Heede, co-founder of the Climate Accountability Institute here.) Regardless, the biggest polluters are undeniably corporations and the military, so we need our governments to implement systemic change.We need to actually vote. We need to get involved together. Not alone.
Here are 4 things you can do this week to either feel more involved in climate change efforts or to create a sense of hope and connection to the climate change movement:
1. Call Your Senators
And demand they care about climate change! Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson even provided a number and a script (see below). Check out her Instagram @ayanaeliza for more ways to get involved.
2. Learn Who the Big Polluters In Your Local Area Are
And join the efforts of the groups fighting them. I'm in Philadelphia, so I Googled "Philadelphia biggest polluters", and it quickly brought me to this link from a local newspaper. The information was from 2019, so I updated my research and it was an incredibly eye-opening and optimistic experience. Philadelphia's biggest polluter is no more! They went bankrupt and sold to a Chicago firm, who promises to raze the refinery and build "an environmentally-responsible' commercial hub. [Inquirer, 2020] 150 years of pollution from the area's biggest polluter and a change was made! There is a lot of optimism in this fight. People are beginning to wake up to the threat of climate change and the dangers of processing and burning fossil fuels.
So one quick Google search and I felt empowered, became connected to an excellent climate news source at Inside Climate News, and found a local environmental group at Philly Thrive. What do you think a quick Google search might help you find in your area?
3. The Best Way to Reduce Your Own Carbon Footprint
Reducing meat and dairy consumption is the most effective way you can reduce your own carbon footprint. You don't have to go vegan, either, to make a big difference in your own footprint. Eating just one vegetarian meal a week is the equivalent of driving 1,160 miles less according to the New York Times. Even cutting meat one day a week will reduce your footprint considerably and cutting red meat out will reduce it by half. I chose to go vegan after a yellow smog from Oregon's Bootleg fire hung over Philly for two days this summer and filled me with a crushing sense of apocalyptic doom. Going vegan has given me hope. I thought going vegan was impossible for me, and I did it. It made me wonder what other impossible things we can all do together?
To be fair, I'd been heading in that direction for a couple years. If you're interested in beginning that journey, the easiest way to start is to switch out real butter for plant butter. You won't even notice the difference. My kids don't, and no one is pickier than a mercurial red-headed five-year-old for whom even a dreamy outdoor picnic is not good enough. (Check out those photos above again. You might notice they feature the back of his angry little head). Virtue-signaling is not the most helpful activist stance. I didn't go vegan to feel better than other people. I went vegan to feel better about my world.
4. The Second Best Way to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
I already mentioned taking a pledge to fly less (above) and reducing meat and dairy consumption. Transportation is a big one, but household fuels are the other greatest contributor to your individual footprint. Turning off lights is one place to start, but it might be easier than even a flicked switch to cut your whole household's footprint. My husband and I were able to opt for a wind energy by simply checking a box. It took one quick Google search. (I'll write more about that in another post.) Ostensibly, wind power is more expensive, but our home is energy-efficient and equipped with an eco thermometer (that turns off constantly and is kind of annoying but oh well). And because of my Mr. MacGregor of a French grandfather (see above for context) who would go apoplectic like I was the world's naughtiest rabbit if I absent-mindedly left a light on.. well, not to brag but I am the Olympian of turning off lights. Anytime I leave a room and forget to shut the light, I hear Pépé's voice ringing in my ears, ""Les Américains! Avec rien dans la tête!" Basically, these actions have cancelled out the expense of the wind energy option, and we don't in fact pay more for a much cleaner source of energy.
If going vegan does interest you, I'll have a lot more to share soon as I discover an exciting new world of endless vegetable chopping. Joking aside, I really have discovered a new and very exciting world of tasty and vibrantly-colored cuisine. In the past few weeks, I've sampled jicama for the first time in my life, learned to roast an eggplant, and created a delicious cake crust from chocolate, cashews, and dates. (Well, I thought it was delicious. My kids hated it. "Mommy, you're breaking my heart with this cake!") But little do they even know, they do eat vegan or vegetarian at home. Meat replacements have really gone next level. Going vegan, after I finally adjusted to oat milk over the course of two long years, was actually easy and provided me with a potentially imaginary but still salutary sense of hope.
More about that journey in my food section soon! What would you be interested in seeing more of or learning more about? Please let me know in the comments below!
*That 17% statistic is from a library book I read (and from my faulty memory). The book is called Climate Justice by Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland. I ordered my own copy, and I will update the statistic when I receive the book.
A Slow Fashion Diary