A refillable fountain penPhoto by Mimma Key / Shutterstock

— By Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —

I have to admit that I love pens. I collect them, use them, somehow find ten in my pocketbook and upon finding none on my desk, order more, and still walk off absentmindedly with other’s pens. I would be embarrassed to open my desk drawer to you. And of course, other’s pens always look better; more enticing. I want that one… (This is the same impulse our wolves have with bones—the other’s is always juicier.) Pens make me feel safe. I always have something to write with when I have a thought or need to write a reminder. I go directly to the pen aisle in a stationary store as others might go to the candy section. It’s rare that I find a satisfactory pen, however, with the right combination of heft, thickness, fineness of the point, fluidity of flow, color of body, and color of ink. So I keep looking for the holy grail of pens. (Note from my editor: “It’s the Pilot Precise V5 RT. But if you steal mine, I’ll be really sad.”)

Then I read an article a few days ago—disposable pens are very difficult to recycle because they are too small for machines to separate and are a combination of plastic and metal. Bic sells an average of 57 pens per second. More than 1.6 billion pens are thrown away each year. Plastic, as it is currently made, never degrades. All the plastic that has ever been manufactured is still on the Earth. So in keeping with my beliefs and care for the Earth, I need to give up my pen obsession. I ordered a fountain pen that I will have to keep with me and not lose.

Until I read the article, it never occurred to me that my pen obsession was contributing to the pollution on our planet. I just never thought about it. Once I knew, I couldn’t in good conscience continue. There is so much we are not aware of—things we have to awaken to and teach each other because the massive manufacturing and distribution systems of civilization are so complex. The time and research the author (whose name I don’t remember) put in to their article has had an impact. Information helps.

And then there are paper towels. Dawn, our office manager, suggested we use cloth towels instead. It is absurd when you think about it: I recycle and reuse every bit of paper in the office, writing on the front and back and corners and edges because it comes from trees, and until then I didn’t think about stopping the use of paper towels. It… simply…didn’t…occur…to… me. (My excuse being that there are so many things to attend to.) But that is just why we need each other to help us continually evaluate our modern, complicated lives, and downsize. I think about how our mind has its divisions, and so it takes a bit of extra energy to see and overcome them. That boost can come from an insight, another’s observations, an article. It is so important that we keep putting that good stuff out to others.

Also, regarding paper towels: why do they have to be white, requiring the extra step of bleaching? Most people don’t need them white. Nor do I need white toilet paper. Nor, according to a Bill Gates initiative, do we even need toilet paper—he sees our whole septic system as inefficient and unsanitary. (Think bidets. Think out of the box—or toilet, so to speak.)

Paper towels are convenient and easy. One of our curses as humans is to go for the convenient and easy without taking into account the larger costs. I don’t see it as our fault. I see it as brain wiring that is not adjusted to modern life. When Mr. Pinkerton, our lynx, would run in the forest, he would just barely skim over a log with barely a millimeter to spare. He didn’t waste any energy at all. Energy means calories, and calories are hard to get in the wild. So in a way, doing things that are convenient and easy may be wired into us. The part of our brains that can evaluate the larger consequences, the forebrain, is still rather weak at overriding hard-wired impulses in general. But that doesn’t mean we can’t keep trying, and keep supporting each other in our efforts. It’s a vital part of our human journey.

Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.

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