The latest IPCC report suggests global climate change is rapidly becoming irreversible. That's a pretty terrifying prospect.
For Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who has covered climate for the Wall Street Journal, it was enough to bring him to tears. It was also enough to inspire a pretty drastic lifestyle change: Holthaus, who flies over 70,000 miles a year, has vowed to stay grounded. Permanently.
As reported over at Salon, Holthaus' decision to never fly again was inspired in part by the IPCC's dismissal of many geo-engineering strategies as a viable solution to the crisis we face. The only viable option left to us, it seems, is a drastic reduction of emissions. For Holthaus, this pointed to one particular lifestyle change:
On first glance, Holthaus was already doing a lot. He recycles and doesn’t own a car. He’s also a vegetarian. But despite doing “pretty much [what] everyone’s always told me to do,” when he plugged his lifestyle into a carbon footprint calculator, he found that his CO2 emissions were still double that of the average American. Doing almost everything else “right” wasn’t enough to make up for the approximately 75,000 miles he flies annually.
This illustrates an interesting point in and of itself.
We already know that for most people flying, meat consumption and electricity use are likely to be the three areas of their lives where they can cut the most emissions. But we also know optimal lifestyle change will depend on your existing lifestyle. If you already fly a lot, quitting or cutting back on flying is the best thing you can do. If you eat meat a lot, then moving to a plant-based diet should be a priority.
But here's the rub - if you fly a lot, it's probably because you really like, or need, to fly. If you eat meat a lot, it's probably because you like meat. And this is why as a movement, relying on personal, voluntary lifestyle changes is never going to be a winning strategy.
That's not to say such changes aren't without value.
When Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of the bus, she put a human story on the evident need for legislative change. When Bill Clinton goes vegan, he sends a shot across the bows of the agribusiness lobby. And when Eric Holthaus refuses to fly (and, most importantly, tweets about it), he sends a message to the world that the aviation industry should take responsibility for its emissions.
Lifestyle changes like Holthaus' should be applauded, and they should serve as an example to the rest of us. Whether or not you're ready to give up flying, you can probably find ways to fly less. Whether or not you are ready to go vegan, it's not going to kill you to eat tofu from time to time. And whether or not you are ready to live off the grid, you can almost certainly find ways to cut your energy use substantially.
Just remember, the climate doesn't give a damn about your personal carbon footprint. It's your role in creating collective change that will really make the difference.