Friday, April 8, 2011

A New Chapter

I am nearing the end of my first week of freedom from my job at a "sustainable goods" store. The owner is out of money and cannot pay for an almost full-time person anymore. I am fine with that, because I disliked the job a great deal and am glad to be done. It was quite an eye-opening experience. When I started I knew that I would be learning things, but as so often happens in life, the things I learned were not the things I thought I would learn. The part of the job that I enjoyed was the opportunity to have interesting conversations with some of the people who came into the store. Other than that, I mostly found what was doing to be a waste of my time and what I observed to be disturbing and somewhat depressing. There were generally two broad categories of people who would come into the store. Those who were there for a specific thing, like bulk earth/people-friendly cleaning supplies or wood finish for a certain project. They wanted to be greener for whatever reason. But they got what they needed and the things they bought were part of a larger commitment to simple living and lowering the footprint they were making on the earth. Then there were the people who bought things like plastic bag drying racks and stainless steel compost pails--the latter imported from China via Seattle, swathed in multiple layers of cardboard and plastic. Not quite a "sustainable good" but, as many people said, "Oooh, it's so pretty." Whether they bought one of these or not depended on the budget--they ran from $30-$50. What depressed me was the people who bought one to take back to their overly large home while thinking they were being radical because they compost. Don't get me wrong. Composting is great. It's a great thing to do. But it's one thing and not all that radical. And we are beyond the point, I think, when tinkering at the edges of this huge global problem of overcounsumption is going to solve things. I found myself feeling a bit yucky about being there after a while. I felt like I was simply helping people to keep on consuming too much stuff they don't really need. There were good things in the store, to be sure. I refilled used containers with soap, laundry detergent, and dish soap. I bought stainless steel travel mugs. Everyone has a different view of what is important to them, I know, but I became uncomfortable with the idea of selling wood finish that came to Maine from Germany via California, flooring from Scotland, and vermiculture set-ups that came from Australia while working for a guy that thinks everyone should give up their cars and not drive. Unless they are driving to his store from far away. Then it's OK. Just as it's quite fine to say that you are "saving the planet" while having stuff sent to your store from all far-flung corners of the globe burning fossil fuels every mile along the way. When the owner told me that his belief was that everyone could live in a 4000-square-foot house, as long as they did not burn any fossil fuels, I gave up trying to see where I would fit in there. The idea was so ridiculous to me that it suddenly became obvious in a way it had not been before that here was one of those people who want to say, "Sure, save the planet, but please do not disrupt my suburban, middle-class way of life. I will help by buying this pretty stainless steel compost pail." Good luck with all that. And the store? It will be closed by June at the latest.

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