Let’s face it: Climate change, global warming, whatever you call it—but one thing it is for sure is climate chaos—seems so overwhelming that most of us simply shut down emotionally and mentally when we see another headline that says the world is ending sooner rather than later. Even I shut down occasionally! OK, more than occasionally. But every once in a while I wake up out of my comfortable stupor with a flash of insight.
The following list came to me during one of these flashes. Here are five actions that I believe, if we all were to focus on, would have transformative effects for our global economy AND personal lives.
I’ve conveniently provided you with both a larger social action approach and something you can do right now in your own personal life and personal space. Either way, you can take action. You don’t have to shut down anymore!
1. Invest in public transportation AND buy a hybrid. I actually got the idea for this blog at a gas station in New Jersey. In New Jersey, you are not allowed to pump your own gas. So I was parked at a pump and had told the guy to fill it up then I looked back over my shoulder after a few minutes and saw $60! SIXTY dollars? My Prius had never in its life cost $60 to fill. At most it might cost $30 (but usually $25). Of course I immediately thought I’d missed a major price increase in gas. But no, it turned out that the car in front of me had cost $60 to fill, and the gas wasn’t pumping to my car yet. WHEW. Then I thought to myself, why would ANYONE not have a hybrid car at this point? I did the quick math: Over the eight years I’ve owned my Prius, I’ve probably saved around $14,000 in gas. More importantly, I didn’t use $14,000 of gas. Hybrid cars aren’t that much more expensive than regular cars at this point, and let’s face it, many people are buying large cars that are more expensive than hybrids—usually for some personal style statement.
As for public transportation, the incredible success of the Citibike program in New York City shows there is a hunger and ready market for more options. If we all pool our political power to vote for more public transportation like trains, bikes, walking trails, and such, we will create more jobs and make it healthier and easier for people of all political parties to get around.
2. Convert to organic agriculture as quickly as possible AND plant an organic garden. There is compost-loads of evidence that organic is better for the environment and your health (again, regardless of your political beliefs), and now there is even more evidence for farmers that big organic corn production can beat big chemical corn production. The thing is, it’s about understanding that the microbial life in the soil is what’s essential to growing things. Chemicals kill that life. Microbial life is the secret magic power in compost. So if you start a compost pile, you are keeping waste out of the waste stream and creating fertilizer for your garden. The self-sufficiency of planting your own garden and harvesting and preserving your own food (meanwhile cleansing the environment and creating health for you and your family) is a powerful political, social, and personal statement. It really does make a difference. And most interestingly, scientific researchers are finding that the same microbes that make the soil healthy also make our stomachs and immune systems healthier. So people, it’s time to embrace germs and microbes and enlist them in our efforts to make both our health and the environment more resilient.
3. Invest in renewable energy AND put up solar panels or a windmill. If only we could harness the hot air expended in arguing whether we should or shouldn’t do things! Meanwhile, other countries just go ahead and do them, creating more energy independence and a cleaner world. What’s not to love about independence? There is no political reason to resist the transition to renewable energy, unless you happen to be employed by a non-renewable-energy (coal, oil, gas) company. The world is certainly heavily dependent on these resources for countless aspects of everyday living, but reducing our reliance on them is in everyone’s best interest! Admittedly, it’s overwhelming to figure out how to personally incorporate solar and wind into our own homes, but it’s not impossible. I cover about 30 percent of my electricity use at home and 50 percent of my hot water (which also heats my home) with solar, and it’s easy! It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
4. Paper and glass, not plastic. One of the biggest mistakes of the past 50 years of the environmental movement was the concept of “saving a tree” to justify switching to plastic. In my darker moments, I think maybe it was the idea of some plastics industry executive to gain market share. Now, I love trees. I love them intensely. I have planted hundreds of trees and protect even more than that. But one of the things I love about trees is their flawless and perfect design. They are beautiful AND useful AND renewable. Consider the paper grocery bag. Yes, it takes trees to make one. But the trees grow back, and when the bag is done it literally melts into the earth, feeding the soil from whence it came. Same thing with glass. Glass is made from sand and ultimately returns to sand, while taking a lovely detour into the land of multicolored beach glass that people love to collect and save. I love my cloth grocery bags even more than paper ones, because they last longer and you don’t have to kill a tree to make them. But by this point, a bajillion plastic grocery bags have polluted places all around the world and contributed to the giant plastic floating islands in the middle of all the oceans. Those plastics will not melt elegantly into the soil or the sea. They just take up space and degrade into toxic bits and pieces—since they originated from toxic bits and pieces of oil in the first place. And while there is virtually no industry that doesn’t pollute the environment in some way, the question is which ones pollute less throughout their products’ life cycles and also have the least health impact. Given a choice, always choose paper or glass. It’s not just about the energy used to make the products, or even their usefulness at their most useful. It’s about looking at the whole life cycle, where a thing comes from and where it ends up, and what it does to us in the meantime.
5. Fall in love with nature AND fall in love with yourself. I’m not sure who said it, but I heard someone say recently that we protect what we love. It follows that if we fall in love with nature, we’ll be more likely to protect it. What has always and often reassured me about the human species is that a love of nature knows no class, no political party, and no gender or religion. People everywhere can learn to love nature. Whether you are hunting in it, gardening in it, watching birds, or going fishing in it, the act of getting to know and love nature is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and to the future.
I’ve always said, nature will be just fine without us; it’s really us we have to save. And in order to save ourselves, maybe we need to fall in love with ourselves, too. There is something very socially acceptable about self-loathing. It takes more courage to cultivate love than it does to create fear. It takes more self-confidence to fall in love with yourself, your families, and your friends than it does to retreat into bitter cynicism. But ultimately, that, I believe, is where this climate chaos fight will be won or lost: If we desire to protect ourselves because we love ourselves and each other, and we love nature, then all the other things are easy. So very easy.