At the Very Least, Stop Stopping Climate Change Solutions

[Sebastian Copeland's polar bear project.]
There’s a great op-ed in today’s Star Tribune about the everyday life politics of climate change.

Here's a passage:
I find it disturbing that many of my “progressive” friends, who claim to be concerned about global climate change, haven’t really changed their lifestyles all that much. Air traffic is at an all-time high, and with the recent downturn in gas prices, SUVs and trucks have been selling like mad.
Certainly, not all of these big carbon consumers are climate-change doubters or libertarians who believe in letting the “magic of the markets” correct all things in due time. Many are progressives who haven’t yet adapted their lifestyles.
Why aren’t more of us walking or biking to work, school, church, the post office or the grocery store?

For me, Daniel Johnson's perspective is right on. Thoughts like these pop into my head whenever I see another news article about the warmest month on record, or hear about flooding in India, or rapidly melting glaciers, or the future of Miami.

Johnson then calls on people to do more in their everyday lives to reduce their personal carbon footprint, and points to bicycling and transit as a solution. That’s something that I also try to do. When my car died ten years ago, I didn’t fix it, and since then I’ve been getting around without a car. That’s just one example of how any of us can personally reduce our CO2 footprints, and assume some measure of obligation to combat a global human problem.

The list is pretty simple, and you know it already:

Drive less — transportation accounts for a third of our social CO2 emissions
Eat less meat — this is the #1 thing any of us can do right now to reduce CO2
Use less energy (heating / air conditioning) — smaller homes, greater tolerance of diverse climates
Fly less — worst CO2 emissions ever
Use recycled / reused goods — stop buying new things

The problem is that, for most people, these changes are difficult. We can’t drive less if we live twenty miles from work, or have to pick up the kids. Hamburgers taste great and are cheap! Target has everything we need in one place. Flying to our sister’s wedding or home for Christmas or because we've always wanted to see Peru… You get the picture.

[When Barb Thoman and Mayor Coleman mentioned climate change at the Grand Avenue parking meter meeting, people openly jeered, booed, and mocked them.]

[A recent pro-parking protest in Minneapolis.]
Stopping Stopping Change

But even if we can’t make these changes personally in our lives right now, the least we can do is stop stopping others from changing their everyday habits. If we care about climate change, and we absolutely should, the least we can do is support life changes for others. The least we can do is to not get in the way of creating a more sustainable social environment.

What would this look like?

Stop stopping people from driving less

Support bike lanes / dedicated transit lanes
Be willing to pay (more) for parking
Support walkable safety improvements like bumpouts
Support a gas / transit tax
Don't speed; stop for pedestrians

Stop stopping people from eating less meat

Make sure good vegetarian options are available at meals you organize
Don’t question or shame people for choosing vegetarian or vegan diets

Stop stopping reduced energy use

Support density: this could be zoning changes, new development, etc.
Ask your employer / store owner / etc. to turn down the heat or A/C

Fly Less

Support passenger rail
Purchase offsets

Recycled / Re-used Goods

Donate to your local thrift store
Buy used stuff

The Power of Guilt

Cars are the new tobacco” is a metaphor I enjoy, and from a public health standpoint this is quite true. Along with guns and drugs, driving is our biggest public health problem, leading to all kinds of direct and indirect social problems.

And on top of that, you have climate change. Each time we get in your SUV to drive to Target, we’re melting a glacier. Each time we buy a car, we’re displacing a farmer in Bangladesh. Each time we complain about parking, we kill a penguin.

It’s not that we need to change right now, though if we could, that would be ideal. But we should at the very least feel guilty about resisting the fight against climate change. When we drive, we should feel as guilty as the smoker who knows that smoking is bad. (And what smoker doesn’t?) We should feel small but steady pangs of guilt for our giant homes, throwaway burgers, and airline ease.

That doesn’t mean that each of us needs to change our lives right away. But it would be nice if, as a whole, we would stop stopping sustainable change, and start making way for a more ethical future.

[The US alone is responsible for over 25% of the cumulative CO2 in the atmosphere.]

1 comment:

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