The Green Pill

It’s been several minutes, and I’ve failed to think of a good hook, so I’m just going to jump right into it. The Earth is kind of a hot mess right now. I’m not going to debate whether climate change is real  (not now at least, until then please help yourself to the cookies and punch by the disappointment door.) but it’s a hot button issue of which not much is being done about.

 From a paper so depressing that it sent people to therapy1 (which I will link down below for if you’re feeling brave) to climate revolutions organized and carried out by children instead of adults, climate change is as close to a Night King/ Long Winter fiasco that our world is ever going to get. Throw in the fact we have no Arya Stark and the forecast is not particularly great. Politicians, as in those who we elect to act on our best interests, have largely failed in addressing it at any sort of effective level. Theresa May even recently scolded children for taking part in a climate strike, citing they should be in school so they can learn to solve it when their time comes2. Nice job showing concern for the youth, Theresa, but here’s the problem with your suggestion: the idea we have until today’s children grow up to address climate change is laughably wrong.

Major action was proposed in 2016 during the signing of The Paris Agreement in 2016, whereupon 195 UNFCCC members pledged to the long term goal of keeping the global increases in temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius, hoping to limit the increase to 1.53. Let’s be clear: an increase of 1.5 will already have already terrible, no good, very bad affects on our environment and way of life, but it’s less disastrous than anything higher4. It’s damage control. The situation is so dire right now that we are in damage control mode, before we’ve done anything drastic.

Three years + Trump later, and the situation is even worse. What does the US government do after signing the Paris Agreement? Trump enables them to pull out and bestows, among other things, ‘regulatory relief’5 upon the coal industry, which was responsible for 65% of power-related carbon emission in 20186. (Natural gas and petroleum makes up the other 34%) This is before you consider the lack of action for other carbon-producing processes, including transportation and industry, which together make up 79% of total US carbon output7. Now let’s consider that, per capita, the US is the second highest emitter of carbon per person in the world and has historically emitted the most carbon out of any country in the world. Great. Neat-O. We aren’t headed in the wrong direction at all.

Although I’ve already bored you with numbers, that wasn’t exactly my intention. I wanted to paint a picture for you, but if you aren’t a numbers person, I can do it in words: we are in deep shit. Deep, deep shit. If you haven’t been exposed to the effects of climate change already, it isn’t long before you will be, no matter your station in life. It is unavoidable. Due to the way our nearest ancestors have lived, all of us will be affected by climate change, and it will be hard. We have potentially 12 years during which we can act to avoid the most catastrophic effects9. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that. . .  we have 12 years. If you’ve made it this far, it’s probably safe to assume that you care, too. Maybe you’re even curious about what you can do about it. Maybe you’re one of those people who self-identifies as a ‘believer in human ingenuity,’ like me, and like so many others who know the wonderful things humans are capable of if they really try.

And if you are a believer in human ingenuity, then I have a challenge for you. Stop passively subscribing to the greatness of humans! Its reassuring to think that scientists, or god, or Greta Thunberg is going to solve climate change for you, and they might, but they’ll never be able to do it alone. They need you to practice that human ingenuity if anything is going to get done. We have to demonstrate that we care about climate change and its deleterious effects on our planet. We have to tell our elected officials that we value a surviving Earth and that our future is not for sale.

When faced with the gloomy reality of our situation, it’s tempting to fall into climate despair and feel like there’s nothing you as an individual can do to help the situation. Make no mistake, there is loads which you can do to get (and keep) the ball rolling. This blog is intended to be an exercise and an exploration into that. You’ve probably heard of the Black Pill, or the Red Pill, (or maybe even just The Matrix.) but what I’m proposing here is more of a Green Pill, and I’m hoping it goes something like this, in no particular order and not sorted or categorized in any particular way:

1) The climate situation right now is bad, but any action taken to better the situation is better than no action.

2) An individual can make massive changes to their personal carbon footprint and can inspire others to take small steps. Cumulatively, these small actions can have massive downstream effects and may greatly reduce our global carbon footprint.

3) By living a greener lifestyle, you demonstrate to large industries (who are responsible for most carbon emissions) that you as a consumer value environmentally friendly practice. When enough people do so, industry will begin to change.

4) You can shift our social landscape to one which is greener, resulting in a social value system where zero-waste lifestyles are easier to achieve. You can vote for people who believe in combating climate change. You can stop using plastic bags, or bring your own coffee mug to work, or take part in a protest. Your action and footprint matters.

5) You are the vehicle for human ingenuity, and your time is now.

Thank you for reading and stay tuned for my adventures in zero-waste living.

Disclaimer: I am not a climate-focused academic, an environmentalist, or even someone who knows a lot about living a green life. I have been especially inspired by zero-waste advocates like Lauren Singer (Trash is for Tossers) and the many people on r/ZeroWaste who are pioneering the movement.

 Who am I? A new science graduate who has encountered, over and over again, the place of climate change in many distinct scientific disciplines. This fostered an appreciation for the homeostatic nature of our environment and the extent to which climate change threatens that balance, including the survival of our own species and the extinction /endangerment of millions of others. Most importantly, I am tired of being in a hypocritical space where I know the damage my actions cause yet continue to engage in them. I practice a few zero-waste activities already, but there is always room for improvement and I’d like to demonstrate how easy it is to replace single-use materials with sustainable alternatives.

1: https://jembendell.com/2018/07/26/the-study-on-collapse-they-thought-you-should-not-read-yet/

2: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/theresa-may-climate-change-school-pupils-protest-lesson-time-teachers-a8781046.html

3: https://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XXVII-7-d&chapter=27&clang=_en

4: https://www.wri.org/blog/2018/10/half-degree-and-world-apart-difference-climate-impacts-between-15-c-and-2-c-warming

5: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/19/us/politics/epa-coal-emissions-standards-william-wehrum.html

6: https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=77&t=11

7: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions

8: https://www.wri.org/blog/2014/11/6-graphs-explain-world-s-top-10-emitters

9: (Guardian, but good info.) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report

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