Ask Not Of Your Neighbors What You Do Not Ask Of Yourself

by Dan Maher

Most people are familiar with the adage: “When you point a finger, three point back at you.” In psychoanalytic terms, it refers to the unconscious process of ‘projective identification.' It is what we do to be rid of unwanted feelings about ourselves when we identify them as belonging to someone else. 

In other words, it's a thing, and I think it especially prevalent in the many overheated exchanges that pass for debate on social media, IRL, and in our politics these days.

But I now find it especially disappointing to witness finger pointing in intergenerational discussions about the cause of climate change and/or attendant issues. Because the bottom line is we are all inclined to underestimate our personal contributions to the overexploitation of natural resources, and therein blame it on ‘others.’ Consequently, we often ask more of our neighbors than we ask of ourselves when it comes to doing more to live more sustainably on the planet. Because the truth is, most of us are not very consistent when it comes to integrating our avowed value systems with our everyday attitudes and actions. And this is usually because we don’t take the time to think things through.

If you have ever talked to an Electric Vehicle (EV) owner who complained about all the carbon casting internal combustion engine (ICE) drivers crowding the highways and byways, then watched as the EV driver (and likely a fair number of ICE drivers) continued to consume  animals raised to slaughter by Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO), over-harvested species of fish, and refined sugars, you know what I mean.

In fact, I have found that environmental finger-pointing is rarely productive. And if it's productive, it often runs counter to the pointer's intent, like pissing in the wind.

Take the self-righteous EV owner, for example. EVs may decrease the cost and impact of private transportation initially, but ultimately lead to more people driving (or being driven) more, which could actually be more detrimental for the environment than ICEs are now. (Think about THAT for a minute!) Which is why keeping the emphasis on improving private passenger vehicles instead of the development of better public transportation systems may contribute more to our undoing, no matter what's under the hood in the cars in your hood.

Bamboo, too, is often said to be good for the planet because after it’s harvested, it regenerates quickly, doesn’t require pesticides or fertilizers to grow, and soaks up nitrates from the soil. As a result, bamboo now shows up everywhere (e.g., clothing, flooring, dishes, cutlery, sheets, towels, deodorant and TP) as ‘a greener choice.’ But corn grows fast, and  we’ve all heard of the negative impacts of growing, harvesting, and using an abundance of it. And bamboo is grown, harvested, and used much like corn. But worse, unlike domestic supplies of corn, most bamboo is imported from Asia, which adds to its carbon footprint, and increased demand for it has lead to massive deforestation and other grossly unsustainable practices.

And don’t even get me started on bamboo viscose (i.e., rayon). Bamboo-based fabrics are some of the worst fabrics in use anywhere - look it up: the manufacturing processes are incredibly wasteful of the plant, involve plenty of additives and hazardous chemicals - some of which are carcinogenic - and the resulting pollution is dumped freely in the air and waterways by manufacturers, if they don’t reach you directly through your skin. The FTC has, in fact, already fined many national retailers for falsely marketing bamboo viscose as environmentally friendly. 

Then there's recycling.

Putting aside all that is wrong with how and what is and is not recycled for the moment, few of us think it a good idea to clearcut old growth forests to make toilet paper, toothpicks and chopsticks. Nor do we want to cook off sequestered carbons in fossil fuels to make virgin plastics. But if the pulp used in paper comes from sustainable domestic tree farms, and the energy and water used to process this wood into paper is also supplied sustainably, and the cups produced are biodegradable, single use versus reusable might be a better way to go. This is especially true if the energy and resources used to make and maintain something like reusable travel mugs - that are, in fact, only used a few dozen times on average before being discarded, and are generally not made to be readily biodegradable - is actually more impactful than that used to make single-use sustainably-made disposable cups, and perhaps also waxed cardboard cartons. As a result, it is not always clear that recycling reusable containers is the better option.

Then, too, there is the problem of vested interests (i.e., 'green washers': the people who sell stuff labeled "good for the environment" that is really only or mostly just good for their business). In this regard, it is good to keep in mind that only the term ‘organic’ is regulated,  so manufacturers and marketers can say practically anything they want about products in terms of ‘naturalness’ without ever having to prove a word of it.

So, before pointing a finger at 'others' for their bad behavior, and perhaps demanding that 'others' be more vigilant in their consumption choices, best pause for the cause to take a closer look at how well we are doing with aligning our green desires with our buying habits.

 There's always room for improvement.