Generational “R”s

Recycling is so sexy. All the cool kids do it. And we feel good about doing it.

But the other day, when Taylor dropped off a bunch of stuff at the recycling center, the man running the place told him to “re-use first, and then recycle.” I was borderline-indignant. I thought, “Fool, don’t tell me how to use my stuff! Just be glad I’m recycling!”

I remember learning about recycling in elementary school; they taught us the “Three Rs” – reduce, reuse, and recycle.

But I really think that only one of those “R”s is actually practiced with any intentionality in our society at large. Reducing and reusing? – not so sexy.

It’s because our economy is built around consumption, and we think that the more we consume, the stronger our economy becomes. This is a deeply flawed way to think.

In bygone days, our ancestors practiced the other “R”s. Parents told their children (and themselves) “No, we can’t afford that.” And there were no credit cards to make them pretend they could afford it. People re-used things (like dishes, and aluminum foil). These limits on consumption were not generally voluntary – people simply just didn’t have the money to spend the way we do today. Anyways, that kind of thinking is a rare find in our age.

I’m getting to my point.

My point: Some of us think that the things we buy have ethical implications. Cool. But we are sometimes guilty of assuaging a little piece of our recently-honed consumer-conscience, so that we can still buy the crap we want to buy.

For example. Sometimes I buy organic bananas. The “organic” label makes me feel like I’m voting with my purchase – voting against pesticides and for the natural way of things. But lately I’ve been wondering – should I even buy bananas? I mean, why am I not okay with pesticides, but I am okay with my food being grown thousands of miles away and shipped via fossil fuels to my local grocery store? Did I just create an arbitrary standard (“No Pesticides”), and if so, is it worth much of anything?

But I like bananas a lot. And I like recycling. But I don’t really want to have to think about reusing. And reducing seems nice if you’re on a tight budget, but I wonder if I’d stick with that philosophy on a six-figure salary? So I don’t really have a prescription here. I’m just acknowledging that we have a long way to go in digging ourselves out of the hole we’ve dug ourselves into, economically and agriculturally and culturally and spiritually and philosophically. Let’s not drop our shovels.


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4 Responses to Generational “R”s

  1. Dena OLiver says:

    I am afraid the world has gotten too complex and intricate to set ethical standards that don’t act like bumper cars with each other. Fossil fuel delivered bananas vs organic. Nice see-saw action. So, what do you do and what do you decide? Where to draws lines and where to use a gray marker in establishing personal dominion choices.

  2. Dawn hallman says:

    A good book that describes ideas of how hard this is ” its easy being green” it’s written by the daughter of the guy who wrote ” Serve GOD – Save the planet”.
    Also ” you can save a life”
    One of the challenging ideas is not to use automatic doors- it’s amazing how much electricity they use =more global warming…
    Hotter in Honduras
    BUT thousands of people in other countries

  3. Dawn hallman says:

    BUT thousands of people in the world feed their families off what we buy that they have picked and grown
    So hard to know what is the ethical thing Christ would have us do …..

  4. It definitely is hard. Maybe impossible to change things.
    But the problem is very economic in scope (and since I think God created all things, including economics, it is therefore a Christian-“spiritual” issue as well). We’ve constructed a global economy through our untempered longing for EVERYTHING, no matter how far away it is. And so this global economy, while it seems big and strong is actually unbelievably fragile, because it depends on so many (vulnerable) systems to keep it going. Pull out one crucial (vulnerable) piece of the puzzle, say – oil – and EVERYTHING comes toppling down. That’s why other countries are angry at us for our financial crisis – it affected THEM too. Because their economies are now hopelessly connected with our economy(ies).
    What I’m getting at is – we DO buy bananas from Mexico. And if we stopped buying them, Mexico would be stuck with too many bananas and not enough buyers, I guess (though I bet somebody would buy them anyways). So what needs to happen (and the only thing that, I think, will happen…if anything at all happens) is a gradual transition AWAY from a global economy, back to local economies. This is happening now with the rise of farmer’s markets, and the anti-Walmart movements, and so-on. We are seeing that economies of scale might be cheaper in the short run, but they destroy us – culturally, economically, and spiritually – in the long run.
    If I had to prescribe something, I might say, “Become poorer.” I think that might fix some things. Otherwise, if we are going to stay rich, we need to be VERY deliberate and thoughtful about how and where we use our wealth.

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