Is Condemning Planting Trees as Counterproductive as Driving Your Prius to Plant a Tree?

My mother and I would yell about the compost while I was growing up, quite literally scream at each other over an apple core.  But before that apple was bit into, eaten, and mistakenly sent to the landfill rather than our compost bin, the question was had I washed it or not?  Because “Yes Willa I always buy organic apples, but we can’t ensure there isn’t residue from the plastic packaging, that a few trace chemicals hadn’t found their way onto that apple.” As I was reading Pollan I imagined that this was the closest thing to my mother’s handbook I might ever find, little did I know that my mother was an avid Pollan fan.  When I read Maniantes my fifteen year old self resonated deeply with the confusion around why an individual’s actions really mattered much at all. So I told my mom about this idea. I told her that nothing each of us did on our own would alter the global landscape, that it wouldn’t change anything. What I could not provide was an answer, what was going to change something enough to matter?  And in that moment I realized, as I did not appreciate Pollan’s oversimplification of the ease of eating healthy, I also was not partial to how Maniantes examines the modern crisis of individualization.

Both Pollan and Maniantes harp on a population that has been taught to care about the wrong things.  Criticizing people for caring more about nutrients than whole food is not so different from trying to prove that green consumer culture is perpetrating the problem it appears to solve.  

So you think that planting a tree will fail to mount the wall that is a global climate crisis, well I am with you there, but what would you like to do about it? Pollan, do you have an answer to single moms working overtime to put food on the table?  Would you like to look one of them in the eye and tell her she’s not feeding her kids well enough? Telling my mom that her adamant recycling is fruitless may make her defensive, it may drive a wedge between us, but it won’t coalesce us towards a common goal.  Neither Pollan nor Maniantes make the necessary headway in their writing.

We will either come together, make a new plan, and enact, or we will spend the remainder of our time on this earth breaking each other down for choosing the wrong solution.


1 thought on “Is Condemning Planting Trees as Counterproductive as Driving Your Prius to Plant a Tree?

  1. Lorrin Ann Johnson

    Willa, I agree with you on the fact that constant criticism of what others are doing to try and better the world is not going to lead us to a better world. I believe that we need to reconcile individual and collective action in a way that can move us towards a more sustainable future. Individuals should feel validated and encouraged in their personal sustainable actions (as doing something is better than doing nothing), but this must not deter from a larger movement of collective action. Not every individual has the luxury of being able to take the individual action of buying organic produce or driving an electric car, so it is important that those in places of privilege use their power to ignite change for all. This could be done through political action, education campaigns, or community empowerment programs, just to name a few actions. What ideas do you have for coalescing individual action towards a common goal?


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