I was puttering around at sociological images and saw this:
which really got me thinking. I consider trash disposal the least of our problems--but how huge it is, even this one thing. How horrifying. So I took inventory--what can I do? And what will I do? Because now that I consider my own life of value, not just my survival, the resources these efforts take compete not only with what I should do but with what I want to do.
Regarding possible changes, I'm struck by the role of community in determining how much it will cost me to make them. I'm lucky to have the housemates I do; they're fun, interesting, and smart, and I'm safer for living with them. But we have different priorities. Like usual for adults living together at our age, we're much more a mismatched boarding house than a unified household.
Maybe if I lived with crazy hippies we could sometimes eat together, and share in cooking and gardening, which would reduce need for convenience foods. We could get rid of the air conditioner and clothes dryer, make a group commitment to buying second-hand, share our cars and bicycles. There is nothing about these economies that inherently binds them to families and older adults. It's only preference, and a lack of infrastructure to put together relatively stable households with young people of similar values.
Lack of community damages us ecologically on a lot of levels. I use unnecessary resources most when I'm sad. Considering that young adults have high suicide rates as a group, I suspect I'm not alone in using material resources to manage depression when a stronger social network would do it better. People (even people who identify as anti-social) are happiest on average around other people.
It also creates the helplessness we face when considering environmental issues. Solar panels for your house are an attempt to replace unsustainable infrastructure you've already paid for once as "clean coal" plants and the attending medical bills. Using public transport and a bicycle means paying twice for transport--first through hefty tax-funded subsidies to the gas-guzzler system, then in the time and money it actually costs to ride your bike and take the bus.
There's a certain amount that every individual can and should do for the environment. Eating as sustainably as possible, conserving water and energy, not buying more stuff than we absolutely need, and carefully choosing what we do buy and use are measures we all ought to get used to. These are cultural standards we need to create.
But ultimately--in a country where car is a better predictor of employability than a high school diploma--the decisions that break us are made at a policy level. Personal and even cultural change are necessary but not sufficient. Political action using real power is the only way to necessary systemic change.