Michael Pollan asks the question in yesterday's New York Times magazine. He focuses on the issue of tackling climate change...
Is eating local or walking to work really going to reduce my carbon footprint? According to one analysis, if walking to work increases your appetite and you consume more meat or milk as a result, walking might actually emit more carbon than driving. A handful of studies have recently suggested that in certain cases under certain conditions, produce from places as far away as New Zealand might account for less carbon than comparable domestic products. True, at least one of these studies was co-written by a representative of agribusiness interests in (surprise!) New Zealand, but even so, they make you wonder. If determining the carbon footprint of food is really this complicated, and I’ve got to consider not only "food miles" but also whether the food came by ship or truck and how lushly the grass grows in New Zealand, then maybe on second thought I’ll just buy the imported chops at Costco, at least until the experts get their footprints sorted out...
So here I am faithfully feeding my children weeds from the garden, and I get this heavy duty question dropped in my lap. What if the Goodwin family experiment doesn't amount anything in the end? What if at the end of the year we're left to say; "I went a year without sugar and all I got was this T-shirt from Thailand?" I suppose our daily activities are never too many steps removed from this bothersome question.
Pollan suggests an orientation of hope that both transcends the circumstances on the ground, and more deeply anchors us in those very circumstances.
Going personally green is a bet, nothing more or less, though it’s one we probably all should make, even if the odds of it paying off aren’t great. Sometimes you have to act as if acting will make a difference, even when you can’t prove that it will. That, after all, was precisely what happened in Communist Czechoslovakia and Poland, when a handful of individuals like Vaclav Havel and Adam Michnik resolved that they would simply conduct their lives "as if" they lived in a free society. That improbable bet created a tiny space of liberty that, in time, expanded to take in, and then help take down, the whole of the Eastern block.
I think he's on to something. I like the way the preacher from the book of Hebrews puts it; "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." It's a tenacious orientation of hopefulness in the midst of the everyday. It's a conviction that the primary plot line I find myself a part of is redemption, and that my daily actions are somehow part of that grand story. That's why I bother.
Picture: Blueberry buds acting "as if" they live in a place where there will be a summer, creating a tiny space of liberty on a late April day in snowy Spokane.