Making Time for the Planet

At The Dubliner, Washington, DC

I don’t have enough time. Every day begins and ends with that feeling, from which there is never the escape afforded by completing what you needed to do.

We live on a planet in peril – or so we are told. In reality, it is not the planet, but the motley crowd of humans that mill about on it that is at risk of catastrophe.

That would mean us. Me. You. We know we should do things differently, but there is just no more time in the day.

I write this from the Dubliner Pub in Washington, DC, sitting next to the stage where musician Brian Gaffney has been regaling the crowd with Irish tunes, including my favorite song, “Only Our Rivers,” that he played for me as I sat down (“for my Canadian friend”).

Having spent several days here during Hurricane Sandy, writing up my own storm, he and the staff remember me. It has become my home in DC, to which I returned in the late evenings on this next trip after days of meetings about sustainability and climate change. I am here to help save the planet – or the humans on it – even though I don’t have the time.

The marking accumulates, the deadlines approach, and Christmas looms like some unfortunate malevolence rather than the celebration it should be – because I don’t have the time.

As I met people from across the United States (and too few from Canada), I was encouraged by the wisdom and sincerity of their ideas – and heartened by the warmth with which my own ideas were greeted. And yet, every day, there was not enough time to do what we felt should be done.

Each session, first at the North American Roundtable for Sustainable Consumption and Production and then at the annual UNEP RONA Major Stakeholder and Civil Society Consultation, ended with a Buddhist chime, not with our decision that enough had been said. We did not have enough time.

It is the mantra of our culture, both individual and collective. We know what needs to be done, and even how, but run out of time to do it. We prioritize, multi-task, work longer hours, and there is still not enough time to do what we know we should be doing.

It would be so easy to surrender, to give up, to shorten the list to what can be accomplished, to prioritize things in a way that the day ends with leisure and not with work undone.

And yet, if that were the case, I would not be here, writing this blog at the end of a week where the other sound I heard, repeatedly, was the sound of opening doors. So many new people, shared interests, opportunities to do important work for which I have no time.

But I am going to try, anyway.

It would be nice to be one of those people who can devote their lives to saving the planet, professionals with the means and opportunity to do such important work. Unless the world unfolds in an entirely new way, for me, that will never be possible.

Saving the planet – or to make it less dramatic, working toward sustainability – will never be something I can do except off the side of my desk, after hours, by working even more hours in a day than I did before.

It is, after all, a matter of priorities. It does not pay the bills, but it means that I have a better chance of living in a world where I am able to pay those bills, where my children have at least some of the future that I have already enjoyed for myself.

We need those planetary warriors, the disciples of sustainability, who provide the ammunition or tools for the struggle in which we are all engaged, whether we know it (or like it) or not. But a sustainable future will never be the result of what they do, for all their leadership. There are too few of them, and too many of us – people like you and me, who make a living in other ways, whose days are filled with jobs and responsibilities that leave no time for saving the planet.

Unless we make that time, anyway – off the side of our desk, when we are told we should be doing other things instead.

Sometimes, in the midst of the frantic activity, we can find a time to think, to reflect, even as I am surrounded by the cacophony of a crowded bar, writing to an audience I will never see. These moments are a gift, to be treasured as both precious and rare.

We may not feel we have the time to make a difference, but we don’t have a choice except to try.

We are surrounded by that unseen cloud of witnesses, those people who depend on our choices, who need us to struggle to our feet one more time and move forward another few feet against all odds and expectations.

In the end, it is the time we find that we don’t really have, the work we do past the end of our strength, the hope we find when there is little reason to hold it, that will make the difference.

A sustainable future comes out of the choices and efforts of people who have no time for anything more – and yet still find it.

I’m making time for the planet — and trusting you will do the same.