A post in which I respond to a reader's question about what I'm doing to fight climate change in my personal life.
After reading my review of Naomi Klein’s new book about climate change, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate,” one reader asked me a direct question: “Having read the book, Katherine, what do you think that we can do to fight this?”
I had expressed some frustration at the lack of concrete suggestions for action in the book – the kinds of things normal citizens can implement in their daily lives to make a difference – and the question has been simmering in my mind ever since I read it. It’s a good one, and precisely what we all should be asking ourselves. What should we be doing?
I am not a climate change expert, nor am I an investigative journalist like Klein who has spent the last decade researching these terrifying and pressing climate issues. But I am a mother, a young Canadian woman, a reader and writer who thinks a lot about these things, not only because I write for an environmental website. This very question keeps me up at night, filling my heart with a mixture of paralyzing grief at the rampant ecocide going on, fear for the world my children will inherit, and desperate hopefulness that humanity will somehow, magically, stop being so destructive.
All I can share is what I do in my own life, based on how I perceive global problems, and it simmers down to an attempt to live as consciously and mindfully as possible.
My biggest daily battle is against consumerism because consumption and demand drive production, which drives emissions, particularly overseas, now that North America has off-shored most of its production. I figure the less I buy new, the less I contribute to that particular problem, so I opt for second-hand everything – clothes, furniture, vehicles, books, house, you name it.
To be fully transparent, I must disclose that I just gave birth to my third child, which many people would consider indulgent in an overpopulated world. But I disagree that overpopulation is the biggest issue. After all, it is the 500 million richest people on the planet who are responsible for 50 percent of the world’s carbon emissions (Klein). That means much North America’s middle and upper classes and the elite of other nations are pursuing lifestyles that are wholly unsustainable, and it’s our addiction to stuff and bizarre sense of entitlement that ultimately creates a much bigger environmental mess than the starkly bare-bones lifestyle of an impoverished large family in Asia or Africa.
I always look for ways in which to shrink my family’s footprint. We live in a century-old two-bedroom home and drive a 10-year-old Toyota Matrix, when we’re not biking or walking. When it eventually dies, my husband and I plan to buy an EV.
I have reduced our household garbage output to one grocery bag per week by shopping with reusable containers and opting out of wasteful plastic packaging whenever possible. I spend much of the summer and fall canning seasonal produce for winter consumption, and subscribe to local vegetable and grain CSA programs that come either loose or packaged in paper.
I spend as much time as possible outdoors with my children, since it’s through knowing nature that they will want to protect and care for it. We don’t invest much time or money in technology, partly because I feel it detracts from face-to-face interactions and because I think it’s horrifically wasteful to update one’s gadgets on a regular basis. (Read about reasons for the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo to get the picture.)
I do love to travel, which is tough to reconcile with my desire to reduce my carbon footprint. While I’m not yet ready to swear off airplanes – and, frankly, the idea of a world where people stop travelling altogether is terrifying in its own way – my goal is to stay for longer when I do take a plane somewhere. For example, I went to Brazil this past winter and stayed for 10 weeks, which spread out the carbon footprint of the flight, and also meant I didn’t have to heat my home during the coldest months, nor was my husband commuting to work by car.
What Klein’s book did for me, however, was fuel a new interest in politics. I’m now inspired to join rallies, marches, and protests – something I haven’t done before. She has convinced me that social action can make a difference, and perhaps even lead to revolution someday, and I want to be part of that. My community has a few major environmental issues at stake right now, and I’m more motivated to get involved than ever before.
What do you think we should do?