By Ryan Elizabeth Cope –
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
~ Robert Frost
The results are in: our planet is in rough shape. No, we don’t necessarily need the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest dire report telling us this—we are witness to it with our own eyes every single day. It is apparent in trash cans stuffed with recyclables, oil-slicked waters, water bodies devoid of any life, and the dying coral reefs. This is what conservationists have been shouting from the rooftops since we first figured out that Mother Earth was hurtin’. If anything, the IPCC report that came out this fall did do us a solid: it validated our position. We fight tooth and nail to be validated in this space. Big corporations, big business, even our acquaintances and people we’ve come to see as friends, look at us like we have five heads. “Good grief,” they say. “You can’t possibly!” they also say. “Why bother?! We are so screwed,” seems to be the general sentiment.
But wait just a minute. Yes, the IPCC delivered us with a pretty grim forecast of what’s to come, but that doesn’t mean it has to be that way. What I loved about the report, and about all the articles that were published following its debut, was that this is something we have a choice about. I read in a book recently that change is simple, but not easy. So, too, is shifting our lifestyles away from the things that are causing our Blue Planet stress. It sure isn’t easy to forego plastic packaging, stop the fast-fashion train in its tracks, or hop on the Meatless Monday bandwagon. Those things are all simple changes, but they require us to look up, look around, and physically move to a new way of being. That’s hard.
During the holidays, though, I can see no better time to make these changes. There’s no time like the present (get it? Holidays, presents…)! In chatting with friends about this crazy time of year, we were commiserating about the woes of Christmas. It’s hard to commit to a path of less when everyone around you is panicking about deals, presents, wrapping paper, and stuff. In talking this through, though, we realized that Christmas, and the holidays in general, provide an opportune time for us all to re-evaluate the whole chaotic time, especially considering this latest news from the IPCC report. We need to act immediately, and it requires everyone to join the sustainability kanga line.
Climate change is happening in large part thanks to our consumptive habits: our cars, our food, our clothing, our packaging, our possessions—they all require resources. Resources that, according to many sources, are dwindling. We simply cannot sustain these habits, especially not at the level of Black Friday chaos. It’s not a question of “if” change is coming to our climate and our communities; it is now a matter of “when.” So, we have a choice: do we continue down the well-trodden path of consumerism? Some might say yes and ask if there is really a viable alternative. Certainly, there is, but it is, as Robert Frost so eloquently puts it, “the road less travelled.” This is the hard path. The path where, for the most part, we will not see the end of it in our lifetimes. This is the long, uphill climb with occasional breaks of sunshine and flat-lands and pipeline victories and bag-bans where we rest our weary, worn-out legs and tired voices. But it is the path that is so, so worth it, frankly for our sanity alone, but also for all the benefits that come with fighting the good fight.
Think about this: how satisfied are you when gifting a friend something that you took great care and time to put together? Maybe it was a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies. Maybe it was a beautiful piece of art that only they own. Or perhaps you gifted your pal or loved one an experience: a trip or a night out for some face-to-face time. Of course, you might also have purchased something new, but something that you painstakingly took the time to research, finding local vendors and one-of-a-kind uniqueness. Your level of happiness at even orchestrating this gift was probably pretty high: you got excited thinking about their reaction, you got a thrill telling your friends, and tears of happiness seeing their face light up at whatever awesomeness you ended up presenting them. Now think of a time when you bought something from a department store or found a last-minute Secret Santa item that didn’t totally resonate but was good enough for the office party you were late for. Or think of any time when you bought things, stuff. It gets lost in the memory banks, doesn’t it? We don’t keep memories of “stuff.” We keep memories of experiences, stand-out moments.
There is a reason we say “Merry Christmas:” Christmas and the holidays are a time to be, well, merry! Despite the dire warnings the IPCC gives us, we have cause to celebrate. There have been a lot of major victories recently in the world of environmental advocacy and we need to remember those stand-out moments. But we also must remember that to make change, we must be change. If we have any hope of saving our beautiful planet, we must give her a gift, too, and that is to slow down, take care, and give back. As hard as it is to buy less, we must buy less. We must give more.
This Christmas season, we must remember the gifts our planet gives us, day in and day out, and reconsider our Christmas shopping mayhem. When we do this, I think we’ll find that we’re happier, healthier, and end up with a brighter outlook on our collective futures… something we all need desperately in this time.
Ryan Elizabeth Cope is a Kelowna, BC-based advocate for plastic-less, healthful living. She has lived and worked in several places on the coasts of both the Atlantic and the Pacific, from Hawaii to Maine. She blogs at Seven in the Ocean (https://sevenintheocean.com/) where she marries her love of food with her disdain for plastic-wrapped garbage. When not ranting ad nauseum about plastic, she can be found playing with her chickens or concocting fresh juices in her kitchen.