Friday, September 3, 2010

Conservation in my Latin American life

Being here in Peru for the past while has taught me something very important: stopping the destruction of the environment is easy; we in the Global North are just too addicted to the false notion that small reductions in consumption mean huge reductions in comfort. For example: here, you turn on the water heater before you shower instead of assuming there will be constant hot water. You thus only heat water when you need it, saving energy on heating. Use of water is a huge issue, both in desert-bound Lima and here in the Sierra. In some neighborhoods they cut the water at night so you have to ration your use after a certain point in the day, and in every neighborhood you find yourself being conscious of how much water you use showering, washing dishes, doing laundry. Here’s another one…line drying clothes. While slightly decreasing the rapidity of drying time, and sacrificing the fresh out of the dryer hot jeans, line-drying clothing yields lovely sun warmed jeans with that smell that only fresh air and natural light can bring (which I deeply enjoy, by the way). Of course, in Lima’s humidity, line drying takes a ridiculously long time, but here in the dry air of the mountains you really don’t need anything else. With respect to disposable paper products, you are also forced to (pardon the indelicacy) use a lot less tp here because of the delicate septic system, which results in considerable waste reduction.
Do any of these constraints, whether self imposed or created by the economic conditions of the country, mean that I am miserably pining for a dishwasher or grinding my teeth at the 3 seconds I lose in turning the water heater on?
Most definitely not. I acknowledge that these small differences have little to do with the population’s environmental consciousness and instead are driven by price, availability, and accessibility of services. However, regardless of whether the average Peruvian would love to have the ease of consumption that we have in the US (and this desire both exists and is creating huge problems, like massive consumption on credit), there exists a culture of economizing, of getting the maximum value from a product that no longer has a hold in North American consumer culture. My Peruvian friends are witnessing the rapid death of this imposed lifestyle at the hands of Global North consumer values promoted by neoliberal economic policy and other quotidian tragedies of the economic imperialism we call globalization. The message that products will improve quality of life and that happiness lies just down the next supermarket aisle is enthralling, but ultimately hampered by the main global caveat to the “American Dream:” you need money to purchase, money to generate more money…money to get all that fresh, shiny happiness on display in the (online) windows of your local multinational chain.


  1. While reading your lines I draw a smile as I realize how proud you are of your roots. It may sound naive, but it seems is becoming less frequent day by day in the US.
    I may be moving to the US by the end of this month, can't sleep as result of this decision of jumping to a blank day to be filled by me and people I will meet.
    Hope to hear more from you
    Armando (From Mexico, Xalapa)

  2. Gracias Armando, por leer y por comentar. Es la verdad, mucha gente pierde su identidad cultural en EEUU. Se tiene que esforzar uno para no dejar que el racismo y la discriminacion diaria te hagan sentirte avergonzada, pero si es posible mantener ese orgullo. Ademas, como en todo, si tu familia valora y aprecia su cultura y te trasmite esos valores, como no puedes sentir orgullo? Con todo lo bello y rico que hay en America Latina...