The other day I was on a walk to the Stanford Shopping Center, and stopped in at a gourmet grocery called Sigona’s to buy a Snapple. Diet Peach, to be precise.
Right then it hit me. Fossil fuels were burned to manufacture that Snapple bottle. Fossil fuels were burned to ship it to Sigona’s. Fossil fuels would even be burned even in the recycling of that bottle, and all the further transportation around that.
Did I let this realization pass by, as a mere fleeting thought? No I did not. I acted on it. Well, I inacted on it. Instead of buying the Snapple, I did the environment a favor* and didn’t buy it. I engaged in environmental inactivism.
Afterwards, I felt proud of myself. But then sad. I had nothing to show for my environmental inaction. I had nothing to boast about. “Hey, I didn’t buy a Snapple today. Isn’t that great?” Whatever. And if I said nothing, no one would even know.
I thought about the fact that most of the stuff we extract, manufacture, produce, ship and even recycle requires the burning of fossil fuels, or using lots of water, or both. I thought about how quickly the human population is growing, and how ever more people are buying ever more stuff.**
I also thought about how hard it can be to NOT do things. As anyone knows who has ever dieted, discovered a 50% off sale, observed Lent or Yom Kippur, possessed a credit card or been a teenager, restraint is difficult. And when it comes to the environment, it’s largely uncelebrated.
And that made me think about all the environmental inactivists out there, making a huge difference for the planet. They are the unsung heroes of our time.
For example, consider Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, who has overseen the production of more than 70,000 cars. A lot of fossil fuels were burned in manufacturing those cars, and a lot will be burned in generating the electricity to power them. Elon received the Environmental Media Association’s Corporate Responsibility Award.
But his younger brother Kimbal opened some restaurants in Boulder. Elon has, no doubt, done a great thing, and deserves his award. But environmentally speaking, at least for now, Kimbal is way ahead of Elon. Kimbal has not manufactured even one car. Where is Kimbal Musk’s award?
You don’t have to be related to a big name to engage in inactivism. Regular people are doing it every day. Here's an example of how environmental inactivism can show up in ordinary events:
Inactivism comes in many forms, some of which are hard to recognize. All these years, I misunderstood my husband’s behavior. He has actually been a strong environmental inactivist, reliably every year on my birthday and Valentine’s Day.
The beauty of inactivism is, regardless of whether it’s intentional or accidental, it still helps the environment. We need to promote it and celebrate it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying never do anything or buy any stuff. Often, doing things gives life meaning and keeps you active. Buying stuff (especially in the form of “shopping”) can be fun! And, you get to keep the stuff. Which oftentimes you actually need. Moreover, much of our economy depends on our buying stuff. That’s important too. So when you do things, or buy stuff, don’t feel guilty. Guilt, restraint, forbearance, self-denial – none of these things should be associated with helping the planet. That would not be sustainable. It’s that kind of framing that gives Greenies and Treehuggers a bad name.
What I am saying is this:
As another example, my mother-in-law was attending a bat mitzvah, and complained that she had not bought a new dress for the occasion. I pointed out, “By not buying a new dress, you helped the environment.” I am certain it’s just a matter of time before she joins me in celebrating that one.
And you? You should celebrate your inactivism. Even today. Because if you biked or bused to work, great! But even if you drove to work, you probably didn’t drive an 18-wheeler to work. And I’m guessing you didn’t drive across the country to work. Celebrate! If you didn’t use a single sheet of paper all day, yea for you. But even if you did use paper, you can probably say that you have never engaged in rainforest logging. You get the idea.
So start celebrating your own environmental inactivism, and congratulating others on theirs. Say it loud, say it proud. If your audience is unreceptive to whatever you didn’t-do, tell me. I’ll make lots of hoopla around it. And I’ll keep records. Because someday, there will be an award ceremony bigger than the Oscars for environmental inactivism, and you’ll want to be in the running.
*You might ask, “How is not-buying a Snapple helping the environment? The bottle was already made and shipped.” Good question. It helps because Sigona’s market is tracking how many Snapples are sold, and Snapple Headquarters is tracking how many Snapples are ordered. And if fewer are ordered, fewer will be made. So that’s how. Takes a while, but it comes around.
**And why is that so bad? Because burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases. Earth’s rapidly growing human population is manufacturing and producing and transporting more stuff than ever before, burning staggering quantities of fossil fuels. To the point that greenhouse gases are accumulating in the atmosphere at unprecedented rates, which makes climate scientists fret over how toasty warm we can stand our planet.