Have you ever wondered what percentage of our well-intentioned choices end up having unintended (negative) consequences?

A related question: when you saw photos of Gandhi spinning cotton into thread, did you marvel at the inefficiency for individuals and whole cultures if we still spun fiber and wove fabric by hand?

Sure, when comparing the Calories In vs the Calories Out of machine-woven cloth, the little extra calories needed per square yard for building huge looms aren't that much more, even when you also include the fossil fuel to power them (compared the food needs of a hand weaver), transportation, cost of capital and don't forget that sliver of the total that is profit for the entrepreneurs who run the factories and their stockholders.

Still, the case is hard to make unless you add one more standard: equity and fairness. What is the value for a nation of providing their own fabric, vs. the wage slavery of manufacturing nations who have hundreds or thousands of non-union employees?

Gandhi's point was that if India made its own fabric, instead being the source of cotton for British factories, they would build freedom from the inside out. Americans during the Revolutionary War did the same when they quit buying tea (from India, via Britton's tea moguls), and reduced all other imports as much as they could.

The book "Entropy" by Jeremy Rifkin opened my eyes. Entropy "is the tendency of everything to disorder and randomness." If I clean the house, the disorder becomes invisible because it's sent to the landfill, it's created when making electricity to power the vacuum, and even the soap I use must be manufactured somewhere. Then there's the water, ever more scarce but which must meet high standards because we also drink tap water.

In other words, my hunch is that nearly everything we consider normal behavior has a high price in unintended consequences. Thanks, Katie, for the reminder.

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Hi Lauren,

Thanks for writing. These days, I focus more on food than fabric. I notice how much it takes to grow a few zucchinis, broccoli stalks, parsley sprigs; how much time it takes to cook and wash dishes for two people. (Except when I'm on the road giving talks, I have not eaten in a restaurant for 20 years; and we do not have a dishwasher.) I read recently that when asked what he considered the most important thing anyone can do, the Dalai Lama said, "Routine." This made me realize how privileged I am--because most of the time, I really like my routine. I read, I write, weed my garden. I cook, wash dishes...and repeat. Within this routine, I notice things over which I have no control. I wrestle with unintended consequences and ecological impacts of living such a privileged life...and welcome discussion about how to reduce these. Thanks again for writing. --Katie Singer

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