If you had one louse on your head, would you think it was a problem? How about two? Would you hunt down and exterminate the Adam and Eve of lice nestled in your hair, or let them be? What about 10? Or 20? Or 200? What is the number you would tolerate before dunking your head in toxic poison to kill them all? Sometimes I think that is how the earth feels about us. Even though I know overpopulation is a serious threat to the environment, it is hard to come up with a solution. I mean, I am not a mathematician or anything, but either more people have to die or fewer people have to be born.
About a year ago, when I was pregnant, I saw this video by comedian Doug Stanhope:
I had to laugh at the irony of the moment, especially when I thought of my hybrid SUV in which I was planning to drive my baby home from the hospital. Life is a quantum mass of contradictions. As much as I want to consider myself an environmentalist with my recycling system that puts Al Gore to shame, an organic farm that would make Michael Pollen kale-colored with envy, and guaranteeing I let every yellow mellow in the toilet, does my procreating negate all that? Is my producing another human to consume and create waste mean I can no longer judge people for drinking from plastic water bottles?
I now find myself second-guessing every environmental decision since I produced this little being of natural destruction. Take for instance diapers. Do I use cloth diapers? But what about all the laundry? Think of all the children who die because they can't get clean water... the same water I am using to wash away my kid's poo with. So, what about 7th generation diapers? They are okay, but if I use them throughout the night while she sleeps, she wakes up covered in pee and I have to wash her outfit, wasting more water, or ignore the comments at the organic grocery store that my baby smells like urine. I have a hard enough time just trying to figure out what gluten is and whether or not it's hiding in carrots. So, what if I use Huggies just at night? Is that okay?
Or toys. I don't want her to have off-gassing toys made by babies in the developing world, so I should buy all new eco-happy toys, right? But the price difference between a rubber ducky chew toy at Babies R Us and a Sophie giraffe is $20. For a parent like me, I will get the deluxe French shi-shi option because of my belief that too many toys will condition you to feel entitled. But what if you differ from my Marxist Mommy style? What if you don't have the money to afford $50 handmade letter blocks, painted with the nectar of butterfly tears collected from virgins laboring in a local field?
Now that I have a baby, I realize that every choice I make is a potential environmental catastrophe. How do I reconcile the fact that I am glad she is alive, but that every life is a budding threat to the health of the earth? I don't want to live in denial, but feeling the guilt of creation rather than its beauty is exceedingly stressful.
The rhetoric to deal with these overwhelming feelings of self-blame is to "do your part." Plant trees, support local organic farmers, act morally superior. But sometimes that just doesn't feel like enough, and I find myself lost in clichés. Am I doing the best I can if I don't live in a solar-powered off-the-grid yurt, riding my bicycle to town in a handmade alpaca woven poncho to trade my raw milk with the fellow crafts people? And why is it all my responsibility? I feel powerless in a greater system that doesn't offer enough options to live without impact. Aren't the politicians and corporations more accountable, considering they have greater influence?
So here is where the contradiction lies. Part of the success of the green movement is not equating "green" with personal sacrifice, and with a wink and smile encouraging people to buy the organic Oreo cookies instead. Problem solved. But I get it. I don't want to think about all we would have to give up and would much rather believe we can live exactly the same, just buying the eco version of everything. And maybe that is true. Maybe it is not the number of people that is problematic, it is the way people are living. Or maybe our kids will one day figure it all out and solve this mess.