Monday, 18 June 2012

The true Nature of Sustainability@home - Myth Three - Sustainability is Easy

Myth three - Sustainability is easy.

No one tells you need a science degree to understand that substance weeds so love to grow in or the signs and symptoms of boron deficiencies and nitrogen overloads and the complex relationship between pH and nutrient availability. Then there’s knowing how to prune for fruit, and deal with a myriad of invasive insect pests more intent than you on eating fresh.

That’s before you get into the house and start organising your life into kWh of power and relative efficiencies of every appliance  and then try change the rest of the families usage patterns, perhaps even going so far as to plot them on graphs to show trends and stick them to your new energy efficient fridge.

Next, learn to read the label on every shampoo, laundry powder, toothpaste, soap, deodorant and use your honorary degree in chemistry to sort out the good from the bad. Of course, you could just do it the easy way and make your own.

Sustainability at home isn’t just about what’s  going on at home, it’s what you bring home. Have you got time to educate yourself? Walking down the aisle... it’s always been seen as a big commitment, and it’s no less important when shopping.  But due to the overpopulation situation in today’s world, we need to be aware of the ramifications of our spending.  There’s much to consider as we trawl the shelves, how’s the quality? Is it fresh? What about reading the label, are there preservatives, colours, additives I don’t want my family to eat?

Then there’s the fat and sugar content, the calories, and the impact on the environment. Is the product genetically modified? How do I feel about that?  And pesticides, herbicides use? How many food miles has it clocked up? How has it been packaged?   How do I safely dispose of it, has its production resulted in soil and water degradation or deforestation?  What about the ethical considerations; has the grower been paid a fair price for it; have animals suffered?

The supermarket is a landmine of choices that can overwhelm the best of us.  And I didn’t even get to the big two, can I afford it, and even if it passes all the tests, will my family eat it?

There’s always something new to learn, often directly conflicting what I’ve learnt previously. Keeping up with the latest information gets to be a fulltime commitment.

Then of course our family decided to build sustainably. A straw bale house.  We spent years  getting our heads around the alternatives to using PVC (not many, why would you, are you crazy, and at eight times the cost why bother?) But we did it anyway.  What paints? Hmmm, make your own out of home made goats cheese, lime and naturally occurring clay pigments, never again. You want to have windows and doors made from local timbers, what’s usually a two year full time course and five year apprenticeship, learn in six weeks and build your own (Trev that is).  You want Tasmanian tiles, they don’t exist, learn how to diamond polish small amounts of cement and broken glass for twenty three consecutive weekends!

Then I made the mistake of trying to do the right thing and dye my hair with henna, a herbal concoction with the least amount of environmental impact. It said on the packet my hair would be blonde, but after I scraped off the cowpad of crud on my head it was Ronald McDonald orange. I had to wear a scarf to the hairdresser and tell her to take it back to only a couple of millimetres.  But the good thing about it was it inspired me to write another book.  A bit of a departure from everything I’ve written previously. It’s best described as being an Australian version of Janet Evanovich’s books. Comedy, the laugh out loud kind. The whole time I wrote it I giggled and chortled. Seems most people when the read it chuckle and guffaw too. The problem came when I got to the end and realised that I’d like to publish it, and that I love a book you hold in your hand, but that I couldn’t possibly condone tree’s being chopped down, the toxic bleaching process, the petroleum based inks.  So, typically, and quite obsessively I suppose. I decided to do it myself, and do it the right way. It took two years and lots more research to get it to the bookshops.  It’s carbon offset, printed on recycled paper using vegetable inks, elemental chlorine free. And it’s fun. It’s a great  example of a sustainable way of publishing and the books not even about the environment.  But it wasn’t easy. Why can’t I just go with doing things the easy way? 

Because Sustainability is  a big commitment and it’s not always easy.
Tomorrow: Myth Four  - Water is a naturally occurring garden and household commodity.


Bec said...

Hi Linda,

Thanks for your always insightful and entertaining blog! I am thoroughly enjoying this series of your posts, especially the honesty of the difficulty of sustainability.

While I would love to live a life like yours, currently I'm a student living in an apartment in inner-city Brisbane. As much as I can, I try to make sustainable choices in my purchases. My partner and I haven't been to a major supermarket in months; we manage via farmers' markets and local, independant grocers (e.g. Greek, Asian, and organic grocers). But we are fortunate to have these places in local, cycling distance. Much more difficult when you're growing your own, researching your own, making your own, etc. etc.

But we're lucky that people like you share with the rest of us the joys and difficulties of living towards sustainability, because, as you say it's a commitment not just for oneself but for everyone.

Thanks & best wishes,

Chris said...

Sustainability? How about insane-ability? ;)

It is hard and I'm with you - getting family members to follow the same choices is even harder.

Our biggest challenge has been learning to kill and process our own chickens. Not many people know how to do it, let alone, show us how. So you have to research the internet and experiment on the overpopulation of roosters which always happen with chicks.

It hasn't been a lot of fun and I haven't even done the yucky side myself, but it's been a challenge to eat the meat, because I'm the chicken mama that incubates the eggs and raises the wee fluffies. We do it though.

Sustainability means getting off your toosh and doing something you don't really want to do, for long periods of time and IT WILL compete with your family time, social life and even how long you spend working to earn income.

I've read a lot of material about taking things slowly, zen type stuff and just finding happiness in the moment. Only when you're working for most of the stuff to put on the table, or what you dress your house/family in, there isn't a lot of opportunity to be zen about it. If you weren't hard headed and passionate about change, it wouldn't happen.