Enough is Enough

Every year around earth day I take stock of the environmental impact of my art practice. I’ve always worked hard to minimize my footprint, and my studio is the place I spend the most time so it makes sense for me to create green processes wherever possible. I do use some petrochemicals because the oil-based letterpress inks need a little muscle to get clean and mineral spirits are the only thing up to the task, but at a liter per year that’s not a big impact. I use paper too, but over the years have found options that are 100% recycled fiber for most of my print work. Most days I don’t even turn the lights on in the studio because the big windows provide enough light. 

This year I’m wondering what more I can do. All of these things feel like such small actions in the face of a global climate crisis which, at the time of writing, is being overshadowed by a different human-made crisis in the Ukraine. As I putter around in my studio recycling off-cuts and paper ends I’ve been getting more and more angry at us—at humanity. What will it take to make real change? What are the instincts that propel us towards our own destruction? We are smart, why is it so hard to overcome these obstacles? Why can’t we all just get along?

When we first moved to Fernie and opened up our little gallery downtown, I got to talk with a lot of visitors and CaliFernians. Daily a customer would say something like, “You’re so lucky to live here!” and I would smile and agree. But deep down it bugged me that people think it has anything to do with luck. Our family made sacrifices. We pared down our expectations. We simplified our lives and worked our tails off. We bet on this town, and we are grateful that that bet continues to support our lives here. Along the way we have learned about adjusting the expectations of what we want—and more importantly what we need—to survive. We have had to let go of this idea that more is better and letting go has allowed us to live a reasonably content life in a relatively affluent town. It’s not that having less has made us happier, it’s that the process of understanding what we truly need to survive has allowed us to step off the next-thing-hamster-wheel and be more grateful for what we have now. We have a long way to go on our journey, but I like where we are going. 

It seems like the idea of more is built into humans—a vestige of our hunter-gather days where our actual lives were at stake if we didn’t find enough food before winter. As human knowledge and ingenuity have grown, we’ve (more or less) shed those immediate concerns and added new kinds of things to the list of ‘needs’ in our survival list. Being honest though, most of them are just wants in disguise. Do I need a new bike this year, or just want one? Do I need that fancy new easel or the hand-made guitar? It sure does feel like it sometimes, but I keep coming back to this idea of enough. I have enough. I need very little. I want a lot. 

When I look at the crisis humanity is facing, I realize that the underlying issue is our desire for more. More things, more trips, more vehicles, more screens, more rooms, more toys, more land, more countries, more power, more me, less us. When John D. Rockefeller was asked how much money it took to make a person happy, he famously replied, “just one more dollar.” That ‘one more’ attitude is coded in our DNA and steeped in our culture, but we need to curb that hunger if we want to effect real change. That means altering what success means to us. We could promote stability and contentment, rather than growth. We can look at our innate desire to want more, acknowledge it, and learn to be satisfied with enough. 

As those existential questions simmer in my being, I need something to quench them so I can continue to move forward with some hope. A friend of mine once said, “If you want change, draw a circle on the ground, plant your feet in the circle, and work on changing everyone inside it.” Here at ground level all I have are the small actions, so I continue to stand inside my circle and work on changes to myself. The true impact will be brought not by sorting the recycling, or walking downtown, but by acknowledging that those small choices are part of my growing understanding that I do indeed have enough—and enough is enough.