As a hobby, pottery sounds pretty old school and traditional. Like organic agriculture, hand-weaving, and compost heaps, it’s been around for centuries. What could be more low impact and earthy than a craft centered around mud?
A whole lot. Here’s the wheel I use: it’s a Brent electric wheel, and it has horsepower. Horsepower. Like the other electric appliances in my life, it is powered primarily by dirty and non-renewable energy.
Next, there’s the kiln. If you thought refrigerators and ovens were energy hogs, they have nothing on the kilns in my studio. They are the size of industrial refrigerators; one is gas, the other is electric. Everything I make is fired twice, up to cone 10 (that’s around 2300F). It takes days for the kiln to warm up fully, and days for it to cool down. Although each firing includes many people’s work, it still works out to a significant amount of energy per person.
Finally, there’s the clay itself. Back in the day, potters set up shop around natural clay deposits, dug it up themselves, and refined it. Now the clay my studio allows is something called B-mix. I have been unable to find out how and where B-mix is mined, but if it’s anything like the clay that goes into kitty litter, it’s most likely strip-mined.
And there you have it. The one activity that makes me feel centered, exuberant, and in love with the whole world (that part clearly doesn’t last) is also acutely high impact. And even while I recognize this fact and wonder why, say, knitting reused plastic bags together couldn’t bring me the same happiness, I can’t imagine giving up pottery just to be greener. Eventually, if/when I have my own studio, I may be able to make some greener choices (local clay, kick wheel). But a kiln will never be low impact.
This is where the idea of compromise comes in. I disagree that going green should involve a high degree of self-flagellation — either in sacrificing the things that make us truly happy, or in feeling guilty over doing things that do. Life is a high impact activity. But if we can reduce our impact by cutting out the unsustainable things that don’t make us happier, there’s room for the things that do.
I’ve been thinking about this with regards to my car. It’s a hand-me-down from my father; a big, not particularly fuel-efficient sedan whose only claim to green is the paint color. I like it; I’ve anthropomorphized it to the extent that I am irrationally convinced that it takes care of me. But driving it doesn’t fulfill me or bring me joy. I am switching jobs to one that is literally a block away from the train station, and I’m starting to see that a single car household could be feasible. The car can go. Pottery stays.
Your green compromises might look different from mine. I don’t expect everyone to get the same enjoyment out of playing with mud. Perhaps your bliss comes from traveling around the world, or raising a family. Maybe you love going all out for holidays, or wouldn’t want to live without imported French wines. The key is to figure out those things (and I doubt there are that many) that make your life wonderful, rich, and fulfilling — and cut around them. Live what you love. Declutter the rest.
What do you compromise on? Do you also have a high impact love that you work around?