Plastic Free: Considering the Future

Eleanor Roosevelt and United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Lake Success, New York, 11/1949 [Public domain], via National Archives and Records Administration

Even though my zero plastic challenge was ostensibly about sacrifice — giving up plastic — it was really about envisioning the future.

I think a lot about the future.

When I was a teenager, I read every dystopian novel I could get my hands on. This was before Hunger Games and the recent influx of YA dystopian novels. I read Aldous Huxley (including his weird novel about psychotropic drugs), Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, and Margaret Atwood. It got to a point where my mother, who never censored what I read, suggested I read something a little lighter to reduce my anxiety. Which is saying something, because she had lived in a millenarian commune in the 1970s and stockpiled cash, water and canned goods during the first Gulf War in case Saddam Hussein attacked New Jersey.

But lately, even amidst the absolute horror of Trump, the specter of gun violence, the rise of white nationalism and the disasters wrought by climate change, I’ve been imagining a happy future. What does it look like?

First, it’s grounded in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That sounds weird and lofty, but acknowledging and being guided by the principles that every human is entitled to “a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control,” (Article 25) is a remarkable blueprint for society.

Imagine a world where everyone has adequate healthcare, food, shelter, water and clothing. It’s very simple, and very complex.

It is achievable. And it’s more achievable if we proceed using principles of renewable energy and waste reduction. It’s more achievable if we de-prioritize productivity and achievement, and prioritize standard of living across all humanity.

Lent is about sacrifice. I’ve quoted Sister Peggy before on this blog. In order for the Third World to become Second World, the First World must become Second World.

Talk about dystopian. But think about the positive implications of that. We can raise the standard of living for people below the average standard of living by sacrificing what we don’t really need to maintain our standard of living. We don’t actually have to give up our standard of living, we just need to stay within it.

I’m really fortunate to live in a place where my imagined future is closer to reality. I can walk to buy all my food, and there’s fresh vegetables and organic meat year round. My kids are safe and educated, my home is dry and warm, I have remunerative and challenging employment, and I’m in a safe and loving relationship. I want this for everyone, and I want to figure out what I can give up to create that future for every on the planet.

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