Thursday, 12 July 2012

Is it possible to live 100% ethically?

Is it possible to live an 100% ethical and environmentally friendly life?
I have been inspired to ask myself this question by my own passion for the environment and noticing that I absolutely don't live as ethically and environmentally friendlily as I could; also by observing contradictions in the lives of others who claim to be passionate about the environment and particularly animal welfare.
Let me give you some examples;
  • Three years ago my now husband and I decided we wanted to have an eco wedding, I had an organic silk dress made by my sister, UK grown flowers, organic food served at the reception, home made soap for favours and home made name places made with all found, natural materials.  And yet, we made our guests drive for an hour on the motor way to get to our wedding reception!
  • Husband and I buy all organic veg from a local supplier and buy organic and locally grown food when we can, and yet every Friday we buy a takeaway which contains meats, cheeses and grains from who knows where (and certainly not organic)
  • I use partially bio-degradable nappies which I pack into bio-degradable nappy bags, but they are still not as environmentally friendly as using washables, but I choose to use disposables because they are easier. 
  • I walk to anywhere within a mile or so of my house and use the car as little as possibly for short journeys when I can walk, but at weekends we drive around the south of England visiting National Trust properties in my husbands fuel guzzling car. 
  • Many people would say that having a child is the most unethical and the most damaging thing to the environment I can do.
And in the lives of others:
  • People who buy plastic shoes rather than leather because it is kinder to animals.  I am not sure this is more ethical because oil production causes devastation to many countries, including harm to both human and animal residents. 
  • People who use maple syrup rather than honey because it is kinder to the bees, and yet, how kind is it to the environment to fly maple syrup over from Canada?
  • I could say a few more things that Vegans who say they are passionate about the environment and animals do that seem unkind to the environment but I don't want to sound like I have some thing against Vegans, I just think sometimes their ethics seem a bit muddled. 
(I think sometimes people underestimate, or just aren't aware of the human cost of pumping oil.  Read a book like Cruel World by Peter Maass to find out more)

Sometimes practicality makes living ethically and living in an environmentally friendly way very difficult or nearly impossible, for example it is not practical for me to have my own hens, my garden is too small and my allotment is 4 miles away, so I have to buy eggs, which, even when they are organic will have been through some sort of process in order to be classified, packaged and transported.
Other times it is just too expensive to be ethical and environmental, for example a train journey to Swansea could cost as much as £206 (a standard price ticket, not first class) and driving would cost less than £70 in fuel, but it is far less environmentally friendly.
On these occasions is it ok to be unethical or un-environmental?
Also if we assume that any product or process that involves using oil is unethical, or damaging to the environment then how is it even possible to live in the UK? Oil is an integral part of everyday life, if you are reading this post now then oil has been found, drilled, transported, refined and turned into computer parts (and that is before we even go into the despicable circumstances in which minerals that are essential in making computers are mined).
Virtually every activity I take part in on a daily basis will have used oil in some way, my bed sheets, made of poly-cotton, my cereal manufactured in a factory, packaged, transported etc, to bake a cake for my friends used electricity, made burning fossil fuels, I could go on and on.

Ok so I have answered, my own question, no it isn't possibly to live in a 100% ethical and environmentally un-damaging way; sure it might be possible to live ethically in a wooden hut growing my own veg in the middle of no where, but you couldn't do this in the UK as far as I'm aware because the cost of land is too high for my budget, so I would have to move away from my friends and family to, I don't know, Outer Mongolia, but where would be the fun in that? What would be the point of being alive at all? One might as well kill oneself, that would be the most environmentally friendly thing to do!!  But then I am a Christian and the Bible does advise against self murder, so that, along with the fact that I quite like being alive discounts that option.  
On the flip side, if you can't be 100% ethical and environmentally friendly, then why bother trying at all, just one person can't make a difference, one might as well just go with the status quo and enjoy oneself.  When I asked this question on Facebook one person questioned why you would want to try and my lovely dad had a great answer:
"Life is always a balance of what is ethical and what is not. For everything you do that is ethical there is something however that is not. You can only do your best and try to be ethical as possible...maximum consumption with unethical supply will eventually result in misery all round for everyone. Being Ethical is a view of doing what is correct for everyone in general not just doing what is best for you as an individual. Being selfish without concern for others is unethical, do unto others what you would like others to do to you, is an ethical view.  Alternatively, do as you like and sod everyone else if you are a self centred miserable git. As the saying goes, you reap what you sow!"

 Like my dad, I am a person with a social conscience I could not justify behaviour which didn't take into account the well being of others. So how can we find equilibrium between the opposing forces of wanting to do what is right and yet being practical about it?  Another friend had a good answer:

"I think it's good to be as ethical as you can manage to be without getting uptight about it. Different people have different levels of comfort with this and I think it's reasonable to accept that someone else's comfort level may not be the same as yours. I think you need to be flexible to be ethical in the modern world. I also think worrying about it is unproductive. I grew up in a very ethical family and have struggled for years with guilt trips on this one. My policy is now to be "ethical" when it is reasonably practical to be so and don't worry about it any other time."

This seems like a positive view to me with they key word coming out as "Balance", creating equilibrium between doing what is right and what is practical leads to a sense of mindfulness towards the world as well as being kind to oneself in terms of pressure to do the right thing and guilt. 

For me, I feel strongly that when I leave this world to go home, I want to be able to look back and think yes, I have left that place in the best possible condition for my children to live in.  I can feel like I have been a good custodian to the gift that is planet earth and have been mindful of my fellow humans with whom I shared it.

What are your thoughts?

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