Perfectionism and climate change |

Can you walk past a crooked painting on a wall without straightening it? If you answered “No”, you may be a perfectionist. The Cambridge Dictionary defines a perfectionist as someone who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection – who notices even the smallest flaws or imperfections.

Perfectionism and consumerism are destroying the planet. A new study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology shows that our habits and what we buy, from food to trinkets, are responsible for up to 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As the demand for goods increases, the need to produce those goods also increases. This leads to more pollutant emissions, increased land use, deforestation and accelerated climate change.

Healthy perfectionism can help people perform at their best, but unhealthy perfectionism can affect their quality of life. I am a perfectionist, but I try to find out if it is useful or not for the environment.

Here are some examples of unhealthy environmental perfectionism with healthy solutions:

1. Over-mow the lawn with a gas mower and water it too often to keep it green. Solution: Buy a manual or electric mower and a rain barrel or just let the grass turn brown. It will eventually turn green on its own.

2. Use chemicals on weeds for the perfect lawn. Solution: Pull them out by hand, with a weed puller, use vinegar or plant clover for a green lawn. Bees and rabbits will love it.

3. Set the air conditioner to the ideal temperature so that it turns on even when it’s not hot. Solution: Set the air conditioning to a higher temperature, use fans and open the windows. Feel the breeze!

4. Wash and dry clothes frequently in a dryer. Solution: Change clothes less frequently, wash them once a week, and hang clothes outside to dry.

5. Excessive cleaning with toxic chemicals wrapped in plastic. (Palm oil used in cleaning products is a major cause of deforestation and climate change). Solution: Clean less frequently with eco-friendly dishwashing detergent (great for windows), vinegar or tea tree oil.

6. Frequently buying more things than necessary to make our homes perfect. Solution: Shop less and surround yourself with loving friends and family, natural beauty and a few beautiful items. Less is more.

7. Ask our municipality to fix all the potholes and imperfections in our paths to make them perfect (tar is oil-based and harmful to the environment). The solution. Don’t expect perfect roads. Slow down and drive carefully when you see potholes. This will save you and the city millions of dollars in taxes every year.

8. Expect our forest trails to be perfect. Several rare, ancient, and carbon-capturing trees are often cut to the ground and destroyed to create perfect trails for hikers. It’s often overkill on the side of taking extra safety precautions. Solution: Ask managers of forestry facilities to prune trees whenever possible instead of destroying them.

Perfectionism is often a way of controlling the small imperfections in our lives in order to avoid tackling bigger accomplishments that we think are failing. Channeling our perfectionism into bigger goals and accomplishments requires self-control.

The need for self-control is a central message that Adam and Eve would have done well had they not eaten the perfect apple from the Garden of Eden, which led to their being expelled from it. Today, the lack of moderation, the need for perfectionism and excessive consumerism lead to the general degradation of our planet to the point that we are on the verge of voluntary expulsion.

So skip the mall this weekend and take a stroll along the Rotary Trail instead. This is where true perfection lies.

Tricia Clarkson is a climate change columnist and co-chair of the Peterborough Alliance for Climate Action

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