On the very first day of orientation for my Environmental Studies grad school program, a professor invited us, bright-eyed idealists seeking to change the world, to do an odd thing. He stood before us, talking about the environmental crisis that faces us all, then admitted to an environmentally un-friendly aspect of his own life. He asked us each to own up to eco-confessions on a piece of paper taped to our chests and thus greet the cohort we’d spend the next two years with. An odd yet poignant way to begin, this exercise was a declaration that even in a community devoted to enacting positive change, perfection is an impossible and unnecessary standard. As I walked around the room bearing the burden of my bashful confession: “I take a lot of baths in an oversized claw-foot tub,” I felt the crushing weight of my self-prescribed need to be perfect, dissolving. I realized I didn’t need to be a hero to enact change. In fact, my power resides in my ability to be human, flawed, and relatable.
And so, dear reader, we fast-forward to today: I sit and write to you surrounded by the beauty that is Badger headquarters. Birds chirp, butterflies, and bees swirl around nearby flowers. And it feels odd- to be witness to such natural splendor, documenting it on a laptop and watching emails flicker in on the iPad beside me. It’s an odd paradox to feel both at one with the natural world yet tethered to the practical experience of being human. The purist in me wants to leave no footprint, to practice nothing but perfect kindness for the planet and people with each moment. And I’ve tried (see: my grand adventures as a twenty-something living off the land in an intentional permaculture community in Hawaii). My dearest dream remains to raise a family in a modest home on a peaceful plot of land to homestead while engaging in work that heals people and planet. Still, what I’ve learned from swinging the pendulum of attempted sustainable daily life to the extreme is that balance and moderation are ok too.
The realist in me knows I need to get to work (a 25-mile round-trip commute) and use electricity in the apartment I rent, and buy food and clothes, and work on a computer. I’ve felt the all-or-nothing human pull to say: well, if I can’t do this thing purely and perfectly, why bother trying? I’ve talked to countless others who feel this similar sense of powerlessness.
Yearning to make the world a better place yet feeling entirely powerless over creating any real impact on the tragedy that befalls planet earth each day is painful. Yet, my heart and science tell me that there is hope, that each small impact and choice matters. That intention matters. That it is not the large action of a single person, but the collective small actions of many that will make a difference.
So, what are my latest eco-confessions? I really like clothes, especially pretty dresses. Recently, I bought several that can only be described as “disposable fashion.” While my goal is to slowly transition my wardrobe to only second-hand or high-quality clothes made of sustainable material and manufactured with ethical standards, like these adorable leggings made of post-consumer recycled water bottles and organic cotton I recently bought, I like to indulge in inexpensive fashion at times. I’ve dedicated my life to healing and helping planet earth, but I’m not perfect! And you don’t have to be either. Sustainability is a team sport. We don’t need to adhere to anyone else’s rules to play. We can have eco-confessions of our own, and still be champions for the planet and people!