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.