Environmental Ethics and Mindfulness

I recently celebrated my first decade in the United States. Not surprisingly (to Gonzaga Grads at least), my celebration entailed episodes of reflection – reflection of an entire decade. The day I landed in Louisiana on a hot and humid August day in 2006 to a present day in the pacific northwest – the holy place I call my second home. In retrospect, one of my achievements that I am most proud of is that I have managed to live comfortably in the United States for this long without owning a car. I often rent or zip a car, but I have yet to own a car. I believe not owning a car significantly contributes to one’s lifestyle and relationship with the environment.

I audited Prof. Henning’s Environmental Ethics and Ethics of Climate Change courses back in 2012. As a graduate student auditing undergraduate courses, I didn’t have to worry about assignments, tests, and grades, which introduced me to an exciting realm of academia where I was free to learn without any academic stress. Through a combination of excellent course material and riveting class discussions I became aware of how seemingly ordinary decisions we make impact the world around us. Although I do not regularly calculate my carbon footprint anymore ;), I am mindful of my daily activities and how they impact the environment around me. My decision to live without owning a car is one of the many evident results of this mindfulness. There’s a constant battle in my mind about things I need and things I want. Looking at this battle in the light of my environmental ethic – a work in progress, I have accepted that I do not need a car at this point in my life.

To fellow Zags, I would like to request you to share your mindfulness and awareness in relation to your environmental ethic and how it influences your daily activities.

 

Satish Shrestha
BS 2010
MA 2013

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14 thoughts on “Environmental Ethics and Mindfulness

  1. Kara McGinn

    Thanks for this reflection Satish, it’s very compelling and makes me take pause as to why I am so dependent upon my car every day. I will push myself this year, with lots of encouragement from you always, to ride my bike or enjoy walking to work more often. I love that you also said it helps to better your relationship with the environment! A big congrats on hitting your 10 year mark in the US, we are so lucky to have you here!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Putter

    While we’ve never met, this piece is such a good reminder for me to check in what I actually need. I am not a US citizen, and have gone without a car throughout my time at GU. Now heading to my next adventures at Auburn, AL, I intend either bike or take the bus to and from where I need to be. !

    Liked by 1 person

  3. maggjones

    Satish, thank you for this! I appreciate that you pointed out the struggle between wants and needs, and then providing us with a possible solution. Do you feel that you have to let go a bit of control, too? Finding a way to get around farther than what your feet can do limits one’s options. Do you find that it helps you become a better planner? I’m wondering how many ways that not having a car makes you happy/free/whole/etc.

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    1. Thank you for asking great questions Maggie. Your questions helped me look at things from different perspectives. I thought about your question for good 2 weeks before responding because control and planning are two things I know I am not very good at. I didn’t, and still don’t necessarily see that owning a vehicle gives me a sense of control. I also suck at planning, or at least I do not enjoy planning 🙂

      For me, fortunately, finding ways to get around father than what my feet can do is not that difficult. As a Spokane resident, I can ride my bike to most places in town. If I have to ride more than 10 miles and/or if there’s a time constraint, I either take a bus or use a zipcar. Occasionally, I have asked for help from friends and co-workers. In return, I offer them lunch or drinks with gratitude. I believe in inter-dependence and thus I don’t mind asking for help and I feel fortunate when I can offer help.

      One of the most important things that makes me happy about not owning a car is that it encourages me to not live too far from work. As a result, I save time and have no commuting stress. According to US Census Bureau, the average travel time to work in the US is 25.4 minutes. I spend no more than 5 minutes commuting. Comparing my commute with the US average, I save about 9 days every year. Those are some precious hours that I get to spend with people I love, and things I enjoy doing.

      For more info on work commuting statistics, please refer to the following link:
      https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/02/25/how-much-of-your-life-youre-wasting-on-your-commute/

      Liked by 1 person

      1. maggjones

        Satish,

        It sounds like the biggest benefits for you are the feeling of interdependence, saving time, and avoiding traffic stress. Awesome! So I spurt about 3.5 metric tons of CO2 equivalence a year from commuting to work alone in Richland, WA. I’ve looked into riding the bus, but that would take an hour in my town and the bus isn’t always there. That isn’t too bad of an impediment, because maybe I could ride the bus part way, then run the rest if I leave my stuff to change in at work to make the commute more enjoyable. We just received a commute survey to identify our carbon footprint at work, and I asked the one who emailed it out what I could do to promote more carpooling or bike encouragement programs. She said they’ll let me know once they get the surveys in. Three people in my family work at the same place (though different buildings) and it’s difficult to arrange carpooling even with them!

        One only has so much willpower, I will try and use it wisely. I think I could simply just ride with my dad to work. But convenience is too tempting. So I would have to drive my car and park it somewhere else hahah, but Im kind of serious. Hm…

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    2. Chad

      It is interesting, that in the U.S., there is some rationale that equates cars with freedom and control. It does, to some degree, allow you to be more spontaneous. However, it does not limit your freedom/control/options. This transportation system is one of the larger systems our society does need to change to be more efficient. Additionally, our expectations of our lifestyles in how much we travel must also change. This ties into how we design cities to adapt to a different lifestyle, but this is not necessary to maintain control of one’s life.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: The Art of Life in a Dark Time – Zag Environmental Ethics Lab

  5. Rebecca Croy

    @maggjones Do ittt. Switch to carpooling life! Not only are you doing right by decreasing GHGs for the environment, but you improve your own life as well! You save money on gas (and the frequency in which you have to do/pay for oil changes), elongate the life of your car by not putting so many miles on it, annnd you get company on your commute! My boyfriend and I work for the same agency so we’ve been carpooling for a little over two years and it’s awesome. If you’re worried about the convenience issue just hook your bike up to the back of your Dad’s car or something! That way you can always take off before/after him. Whatever you’re looking for 😊 I believe in you! In small sacrifices comes we reap the reward of great happiness from the positive differences we are making.

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  6. Maggie Harger

    I definitely agree with a lot of stuff that’s been said in the comments here. At Gonzaga I’ve spent nearly 4 years living without a car, which has largely been made possible by the relative closeness of everything on campus, the buses of Spokane (go STA!) and carpooling with friends. As I approach graduation and look for jobs, commute time and public transportation accessibility is a big factor in my decisions regarding job applications and what I want my future to look like.

    I also think that the car as a “freedom” is a huge cultural construct that is not necessarily true at all (or even most) times. Who really wants to spend 30 minutes to an hour plus stuck in traffic going back and forth to work? The monetary investment people have to put into cars is also a significant constraint, and not something I would consider to be a freedom. Also highways and roads are giant infrastructure projects that rely largely on taxpayer dollars that could be spent elsewhere (like on public transport!). With adequate public transportation and city planning it seems that we could eliminate a lot of hassle that comes with owning a car, while at the same time creating a more sustainable world overall.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jacquelyn Hatzke

    I constantly struggle with conviction about the impact my larger than average family has on the environment. I have a husband and 5 children and we try to be very intentional about how we advocate for and impact the environment. I am a big believer in the idea that we are all sub-creators and acting stewards for all of creation. We try to ;be mindful and respectful of the earth and all within it, but we do drive cars and we have such busy lives, it is difficult to implement better strategies for being more environmentally conscientious. Our son Aidan who is 12 is very passionate about this and actually want to go into environmental studies, in hopes of teaching global perspectives and environmental ethics. We will continue to find ways to make changes, even if they are small, as I believe there is always room for improvement.

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  8. Angela

    I often justify my owning and driving of a car by telling myself it is not nearly as bad as taking a plane (though since my car was brought up to Spokane last August, it has saved only one round-trip to Seattle), which I am surprised has not come up in the comments yet. Additionally, I do not eat meat and seafood, I try to buy organic produce, and I try to shop locally and sustainably to mitigate my own carbon footprint. However, I believe real change comes on a much greater scale. While I can “encourage” Patagonia to continue sustainable sourcing and Safeway to carry certified-organic products, it is ultimately up to these businesses to continue environmental practices. Law, policy, and businesses need to be the ultimate change-makers.

    Being from California, we are told to conserve water during drought years by taking shorter showers and not watering lawns. What is less widely promulgated is that big businesses and farming operations (which do provide essential services) are the main water users, and that individuals have only a fraction of their impact. In general, I believe there are bigger fish to fry, so to speak, and that focusing too much on small personal changes will only increase our own anxiety.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. David Baker

    Satish,

    Excellent post! I actually find myself in a similar dilemma. I hadn’t bought a car until recently. Though I had the money, I usually just carpooled with coworkers and walked where I needed to go. I just didn’t really feel like I needed a car. I have had my car for a few years now and it is more of habit to drive than a luxury. I find that I take the bus and walk less and less now that I drive almost everywhere. Though owning a car does make simple tasks more efficient—like taking 30 minutes to grocery shop rather than a half-day—it does take away the mindfulness and awareness with my relationship to nature. When I walked more and took the bus, I noticed more trees and friendly human-interactions. Nowadays, daily life seems to be a constant rush between places A, B, and C, unaware of a relationship between myself and the environment at all. These simple switches from using a reusable water bottle to not owning a car can act as two stones killing climate change and our alienation from the environment, all with one toss. Thanks, Satish!

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