ASK EARTHA: New Year’s Resolutions

 In Ask Eartha

Dear Eartha, Every year, I make a New Year’s resolution to adopt one new habit to make my life more sustainable. A friend called me a hypocrite, because no matter what I do, I’ll still have an environmental impact. His comment bummed me out. What can one person really do, anyway?

“Bah-humbug,” I say to your friend! This attitude won’t inspire anyone to make positive life changes – whether sustainability-related or not. Because your friend isn’t calling you out for being a hypocrite, he’s calling you out for not being perfect. That’s both unfair and unrealistic.

Impossible perfectionism

The goal of sustainability isn’t perfection. Perfection simply isn’t possible because everything we humans do and consume has an environmental impact – from the food we eat and the homes we live in, to the clothes we wear and gear we buy. That’s why calling someone a hypocrite for trying to live more sustainably isn’t just mean, it’s defeatist. Because why bother attempting anything if you know you’ll never succeed?

What we need is a change of perspective. Sustainability isn’t an all-or-nothing game. We can acknowledge that we will never be without environmental sin while also striving to do better. Progress is what matters! And the good news is the solutions to our most pressing environmental challenges are within reach. Think: cleaner electric grids and transportation systems, increased emphasis on re-use and closed-loop manufacturing, and the realization that more stuff doesn’t always bring happiness. So instead of shaming family, friends or even strangers, we should kindly encourage others to do whatever they can to be part of the sustainability movement. That’s why your resolutions are important.

Find your purpose

New Year’s resolutions get scoffed at because most people don’t follow through with them. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make resolutions – we just need to change how we make them. Research in psychology highlights the significance of purpose in personal goal-setting. Whether for the New Year or any time of year, you’ll have greater success achieving your goals if you reflect on the deeper intention underlying them. How? Ask yourself four questions:

  • How does this particular goal fit in with my longer-term goals?
  • Why is this goal personally meaningful to me?
  • Who, aside from myself, will be positively impacted by my goal?
  • What will success look like?

New year, new you

What can one person really do? Well, like the individual snow crystals that move together to create an avalanche, our impact is amplified when we join larger efforts, whether global or local. For example, our community has a goal to increase our waste diversion rate to 40 percent by 2035. We also have a goal to reduce greenhouse gas pollution 80 percent by 2050. There are lots of ways you can help achieve these goals, and we won’t get there without your participation!

Stumped for ideas? I asked a few friends how they plan to live more sustainably in 2021. Maybe their resolutions will inspire you, too:

As for me? I’m planning to trade in my 15-year-old station wagon for an electric car. Of course, I know that electric cars still have impacts – everything does! – but I also know that compared to gas-powered cars, electric cars are far better for the environment. And, by being a relatively early adopter, I demonstrate to others in our community that electric cars are a viable option in the mountains. Will my single purchase save the world? No. But I will be helping to change the transportation system. That’s what matters.

I refuse to let accusations of hypocrisy get me down. After all, are we not an innovative species? If we can send people (and dogs) to space, invent mini computers that fit in our pockets, and create amazing works of art and music, can we not also figure out how to live better upon our only planetary home? And shouldn’t we try? No matter how big or small your resolution, we all have to start somewhere. Your goal-setting demonstrates hope for a better future, and that’s something we should all celebrate.

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