After further research, I’ve found two sources of sustainable sandalwood oil, but no incense.

Both Aura Cacia and Mountain Rose Herbs carry Australian sandalwood oil. Aura Cacia products are available at Whole Foods stores and other natural-products stores. For larger amounts, I’ve found Mountain Rose Herbs to be a good source of affordable, high-quality ingredients. (Please note that I’m not associated with either company.)

Santalum spicatum is a species in the same genus as “true” sandalwood (Santalum album), but it is native to Australia. The Australian government is working hard to manage harvesting and replant commercial sources of sandalwood while protecting wild populations.

This whole discovery has really opened my eyes to another aspect of my responsibilities as a consumer who also venerates the earth. I’ve been growing more conscious of the issues involved in my food supply, and am trying to make choices that are increasingly consistent with my values, but this is a whole different kettle of fish. Nothing I eat is in the process of being driven to extinction by human overuse. That makes it a relatively clear-cut choice not to perpetuate the problem by buying sandalwood. I can’t simply sit back and burn endangered wood while visualizing myself as a tree in order to ground and center in connection with nature. On the other hand, it’s also nice to find an alternative that allows for some substitution in my practices rather than radical elimination.

Like many other ecological and environmental concerns, this a difficult situation, where we must weigh multiple factors that are incredibly hard to compare. For me, putting my values into practice means navigating these kinds of situations as best I can, in an evolving fashion.

It’s easy to succumb to despair when trying to weigh incommensurate forms of good and harm in a world with so much environmental upheaval. One of the ways I resist despair is by coming together with others to face such questions, both by talking through the issues and supporting each other in our choices, and by sharing resources and assistance. Writing about this issue is not an attempt to scold or shame others; it’s an attempt to contribute to the ongoing conversation and community efforts to live more ethically. It’s not easy, but we can do better together.