Green Atonement

The Days of Awe — Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the days in between — give us an annual opportunity to examine our words, actions and intentions of the previous year, and to make amends for any wrongs we have committed — to ensure that our names are written and sealed into the Book of Life on Yom Kippur, to begin the new year with a clean slate.

Green geek that I am, I decided instead to spend these ten days looking at some of the ways I’ve failed my planet in the past 12 months.

* I’ve gotten lax about taking canvas bags with me to the store. Sure, those plastic grocery bags come in handy when walking the dog, but many of them are torn after carrying food and so cannot be repurposed.

* Several times when I’ve found a jar of ancient pickles or old spaghetti sauce at the back of the refrigerator, I threw it out instead of emptying the jar into the trash (no garbage disposal) and then recycling the glass.

* I didn’t bring my worm composting bin inside soon enough when the summer weather turned hot. Most of the worms died. Same goes for my potted herb garden, which got burnt up in the sun.

* I’ve thrown away several used printer cartridges instead of saving them for recycling. My dog likes to eat them, and I don’t want her ingesting plastic or ink. But instead of finding a safe place for storage, I’ve chucked some of them instead.

* Putting out food for two stray cats is attracting raccoons and possums into my courtyard and is messing with the wetland ecosystem my neighborhood occupies.

Yes, I only buy compact fluorescent light bulbs, recycle my newspapers and magazines, and use both sides of the paper when printing. I often choose to walk or take mass transit instead of driving, and I don’t let the water run when washing my hands. But some mornings I cringe to discover I’ve left a fan or external hard drive running overnight in my office. I know I can do better.

My boyfriend laughs at my assortment of decorative ribbons, which had adorned gifts but now collect dust on a bookcase. The ribbons are still good, so I won’t throw them away, but the pieces are too short to be useful. I’m trying to be a good steward, and find myself in nearly constant conflict.

Maybe “green guilt” will soon become a speciality of psychotherapists. I have collections of damaged-but-repairable items I no longer want — like a leather belt with a worn-through notch — but which I can’t seem to rehome. No one on Freecycle or Craigslist wants this stuff. If I give it to Goodwill, it will just end up in the trash. So it continues to clutter my space instead.

Part of my green atonement needs to be about balance, so that I can enjoy my life and my home while still being part of the environmental solution.

Thinking globally and acting locally isn’t always easy. It’s a lot less painful, say, to buy a handful of carbon offsets for an upcoming trip or to munch on an organic bean burger at an Earth Day festival, than it is to pay closer attention to our mundane habits — even when it’s precisely those little every day decisions that make the biggest difference. Or so the green advocates keep saying.

As Yom Kippur approaches, I’m wondering how to make amends to the Earth, with more consistent actions that are small, uneventful and immediate. On the Day of Atonement itself, I can fast in recognition of dwindling global resources and wear white in hopeful honor of a cleaner planet. Moving forward, I can shop more often at local farmers markets. I can be more vigilant about making my own green cleaning products. I can set up a secure container for recycling printer cartridges.

And I can take a breath and forgive myself when I stumble. I am an eco-conscious yet imperfect human, and I’m afraid the Earth and I are both going to have to live with that. To me, that’s one of the most reassuring and inspiring messages of the High Holy Days: that we can make mistakes and make amends, and then we can try again.

I just hope global warming is as forgiving.

Advertisements