By Mike Mercer, Executive Director of the Northwest Earth Institute

One of my favorite NWEI course excerpts is found in the first session in Menu for the Future.  Organic farmer, Zoe Bradbury, troubled by her inability to make a decision while shopping for eggs, chuckles and wonders if the “quiche sample in the last aisle has been laced with something” causing a sudden onset of indecisiveness.  Free range, cage free, local, Omega-3, organic fed, Grade A, AA, natural… the list goes on.  No wonder so many people find developing new habits so challenging and give up; all the jargon is just too much to think about.

I recently took my sixteen year old daughter to Japan for two weeks.  In case you are wondering, I flew.  Deciding how we would get there was relatively easy, but making the decision to go was much more complicated.  The full struggle with that little voice in my head and then the conversations with my daughter can’t really be captured in this space, but here are a few insights: 1) According to the carbon calculators that I looked at, for the two of us, the carbon emissions of traveling to Japan were the equivalent of driving my car 24,000 miles.  2) My son and I kayak, cycle, backpack, etc. but these activities are not my daughter’s thing.  3) Being sixteen, my daughter thinks I was born with only half the tolerance and brain capacity of any other adult in her life.  We needed a little father/daughter bonding time focused on her interests.  4) As the Executive Director of an organization working to reduce consumption, getting to Japan via airplane seemed squarely at odds with my professed values. 5) Do carbon offsets really help, or just make us feel better? 6) Could we go somewhere else, resulting in fewer emissions and gain the same bonding experience?  And so on…

What to do?  I weighed, pondered, debated with others, guilt tripped myself, bought the plane tickets and went.

My daughter had the trip of the lifetime and we shared a terrific experience.  She even said thank you (and anyone with teenage children know that this is monumental).  We experienced firsthand what an efficient and convenient rail system looks like.  We were shocked by the plastic wrapping on every napkin and disposable chopsticks at every meal.  We met some of the most conscientious, honorable people.  In Hiroshima, we also saw the horror of what humanity can do to one another and the power of forgiveness.  Would I do it again? Under the same conditions – in a heartbeat.  Will I venture to another corner of the world in the future?  Oregon has so much to offer, but only time and circumstances will tell.

As Zoe concluded, conscientious decision making is “simply not so simple”.  This may be true, but perhaps the act of wrestling with the complexity of systems, weighing competing values and, in the end, maybe making more positive choices is what being fully alive is all about?  Enjoy the wrestling!

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