Congrats in advance for reading this post with its raw facts and thorny predictions. However - read all the way through, past the rough bits, for inspirational gold at the end.
When I was growing up, our home in Huntington, New York sat on two acres of magnificent lawn. We lived in a light pink house surrounded by five discrete garden areas, a stone bird bath, and a brick patio. The dark red leaves of a copper beech encircled me as I climbed up its branches. Weeping willows, silver birch, dogwoods with white blossoms and towering pine trees all held magic. Fuchsia and coral azalea bushes clustered together, and purple crocuses with orange pistils were thrilled to poke through the snow at the end of March. There were daffodils and narcissus, roses in the summer, and fragrant lilies of the valley hid themselves in the shade. That garden was my refuge.
I’ve since lived in a variety of conditions, some pretty rough and dirty with undependable water, slumlords, neglect and worse, so I’m all the more grateful to live in a sweet neighborhood now. Luxuriant landscaping and healthy trees radiate with beauty in every direction. My neighbors take pride in maintaining their homes with love.
It doesn’t look like anything’s wrong. But something is wrong.
We think because climate change isn’t clearly visible in our lush, flowering hedges that we’re not affected by it.
Acknowledging that reality still doesn’t permeate everyone’s daily habits. Yet.
“Because it’s no longer enough to be a decent person. It’s no longer enough to shake our heads and make concerned grimaces at the news. True enlightened activism is the only thing that can save humanity from itself.” - Filmmaker/Writer/Director Joss Whedon
Although we are half aware of extreme temperatures that shove their way into the wrong season or the wrong zip code, somehow, we think climate change won’t affect us. It’s either some abstract future event, or it’s taking place in a remote corner, right?
Let’s take you for example. You’re a good person and you care, but if you see no local evidence of an acute crisis, then what are your daily sustainability habits? Your donations, your activism, your community involvement?
“Global warming is precisely the kind of threat humans are awful at dealing with: a problem with enormous consequences over the long term, but little that is sharply visible on a personal level in the short term. Humans are hard-wired for quick fight-or-flight reactions in the face of an imminent threat, but not highly motivated to act against slow-moving and somewhat abstract problems, even if the challenges they pose are ultimately dire.” - From “How Americans Think About Climate Change in Six Maps” by Nadja Popovich, John Schwartz and Tatiana Schlossberg, New York Times.
The current US administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and its brazen hostility to the science that underpins climate change facts - a denial that encourages oil companies to maintain profit above all else despite critical warnings from the scientific community - underscores the urgency that we take on climate responsibility ourselves. Now.
If we don’t insist on 100% renewable energy, if we don’t stop profit-motivated, habitat-destroying deforestation and lethal fracking, vote with our dollar, insist water remain free, clean and available as a fundamental right, shut down nuclear plants, implement daily, sustainable living habits, stop agreeing to use and thoughtlessly toss thousands of pieces of plastic into regular garbage (straws, soda bottles, Starbucks lids anyone?) which end up in landfill and in the ocean where they’re swallowed by and kill fish, if we don’t cease the manufacture and use of pesticides that degrade nutrition, deplete the soil, kill animals and poison the ground water, what will happen? We will not survive.
So That You Don’t Fling Yourself Off a Bridge
Know too that superb environmental innovators abound, some well-known like Elon Musk and his solar roof tiles, and some more obscure, such as Dutch entrepreneur Boyan Slat, who, at nineteen years old, invented a device to rid the oceans of plastic by using their own currents.
Here is but a fraction of what else is happening.
Trump Administration Goes After Clean Water - The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers will be issuing a proposal to repeal the Clean Water Rule, which protects the water supply for 117 million Americans.
The Privatization of Water: Nestle Denies that Water is a Fundamental Human Right - 2013 article is unfortunately still relevant.
World Has Three Years Left to Stop Dangerous Climate Change, Warn Experts - Published by The Guardian on June 28, 2017. (The Guardian, a British newspaper, is a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for journalism.) A quote:
“Avoiding dangerous levels of climate change is still just about possible, but will require unprecedented effort and coordination from governments, businesses, citizens and scientists in the next three years, a group of prominent experts has warned.”
Connecting the Dots
For a unique perspective on the origins of pollution and why our culture allows it to continue, a teacher named Benjamin Creme had this to say from his 1993 book, “Maitreya’s Mission Vol II.” Mr. Creme was a futurist, artist, highly evolved teacher, and incredibly gifted synthesizer of politics and spirituality.
“...more and more governments, groups and individuals are seeing the necessity for an ecological rethink, a solution to the problem of pollution. But it will not be stopped while we have such competition in our methods and policy of manufacture. We have to shift the present attitude to production from that of greed, waste and competition to that of sufficiency.”
“Instead of saying, ‘How much can we produce and how fast?’ we have to say: ‘How much do we need? How little of this commodity can we get away with using?’”
“It is precisely the misuse of resources, the blind following of market forces, the competition, which has created the pollution which is now proving such an ecological hazard. We are poisoning our planet so quickly that unless we change direction very soon it will be too late, and future generations will suffer unbelievably.”
“Sufficiency must take over from this profligate over-production based on competition. Market forces must lose their grip on the psyche of the world.”
While this is an urgent big picture view, there are things we can do on a practical level, environmental groups we can support financially if we’re able, and pressure we can exert on the government to demand right action.
What to Do - Transportation Triage
This one is pretty obvious. Take public transportation, ride your bike or carpool. Realistically though, the need for cars is inescapable for most.
Can you imagine what would happen if, by the tens of thousands, people bought, leased, rented or traded in their current vehicle for an electric car or at a minimum, a hybrid? That would make a giant positive impact, and quickly.
I look forward to hearing about whichever future genius lowers costs for electric cars, creates spectacular streamlined designs and destroys an old paradigm about power and wealth, instead linking high status and luxury to ethics and sustainability.
What to Do - Supermarket Triage
Look around any supermarket - virtually every item of the hundreds of thousands of items you can buy is wrapped in unrecyclable plastic.
In fairness to all of us, because our economy is not built to operate for everyone’s highest good but is usually optimized for the quickest, fattest profit margin regardless of social or ecological consequences, it’s challenging for us to go against cultural norms. But here are a few ideas. I still have to remind myself to do all of these.
Use lightweight reusable grocery bags; have at least one with you all the time. If possible, stop accepting plastic bags.
Bring cotton mesh produce bags or compostable produce bags for your vegetables instead of those ubiquitous thin plastic bags that end up in the ocean, are mistaken for food, eaten, and kill sea life. Planning ahead to shop in European-style small runs every few days instead of one weekly mega shopping trip means the freshest produce.
Reject soaps and other products containing microbeads. They end up in the stomachs of fish and birds and in the water supply.
A great film I recommend you rent and screen for your friends is Plastic Paradise, an unflinching documentary about where our throwaway culture has brought us. It will - it should - help change behavior. Clicking on the link will get you to the trailer.
I want to ask you to contemplate your diet, though what you eat is certainly your business. Clearly the choice to not eat meat is a personal one and an enormous decision. If you can switch to a plant-based diet or greatly reduce meat consumption, please consider doing so; livestock live and die in unbearably inhumane conditions, and they are pumped with antibiotics. Those same conditions exist in the dairy and egg industries.
We eat not only the drugs those animals were fed, making us antibiotic-resistant, we’re also consuming the fear they were feeling at the end. Raising them takes a huge toll on the environment. To make sure you’re getting enough calcium and amino acids from a plant-based diet, do your research or find a holistic nutritionist.
Encouraging political activism, sustainability blogger Alden Wicker wrote in a recent article, “So if you really care about the environment, climb on out of your upcycled wooden chair and get yourself to a Town Hall meeting.”
I know this is an unpleasant conversation. I’m suggesting inconvenient behaviors that require a heightened level of mindfulness and planning, but it’s imperative we think beyond our own comfort. We are part of a larger community and our actions affect each other. Our materialist throwaway culture of instant everything is killing the earth. Make an effort.
Brothers and Sisters of One Humanity
From “Maitreya’s Mission Vol III” by Benjamin Creme:
“Our greed, selfishness, complacency, our over-production for profit rather than production for a sustainable economy, is creating a situation in which the very planet on which we live is collapsing under us. Unless we change, we will create a situation in which there will be no life, human or sub-human.”
Mr. Creme is one of very few teachers who explicitly links the structure of the economy and its inbuilt inequalities directly to the environmental disasters we now face.
Mr. Creme and his colleagues proposed as a solution that we, all of humanity, could choose to share the world’s resources. In order to survive, evolve and thrive, humankind must accept the principle of sharing and embrace cooperation over competition as an intentional, practical organizing force behind the economy and all of our systems.
In an astonishing prediction, he says further,
“There will be a new technology called the ‘technology of light.’ We will begin to use light directly from the sun. All forms of power used today will become obsolete. This new energy will supply every energetic need of humanity. And, of course, it cannot be cornered by any individuals or groups. It is everywhere, free to all, and is endless in its ramifications...”
“We have to become decent human beings and recognize that we are one, brothers and sisters of one humanity, and therefore that the food, the raw materials, the energy, the scientific knowledge, the technology, the educational systems, the health care of the world, belong to everybody, and must be redistributed more equitably around the world: so that we create the reality of the one humanity, the brotherhood of man. And, in this way, we will create the right conditions to deserve all these technological advances.” - “Maitreya’s Mission Vol III”
Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken, published in April, 2017, is a NY Times bestseller and guide.
Entrepreneur and philanthropist Jon Berghoff’s TEDx talk, “Could One Question Uplift and Unite Humanity?” includes an inspiring hopeful vision for a future we can choose.
Call to Action - Environmental Hair Bands?
Remember the 80s when dozens of hair bands jumped onstage with their guitars to form one giant super-group to tackle hunger or some other cause? They performed, pro bono, as channels for a massive fundraising drive and they got it done. Am I the only one who thinks that every major environmental non-profit should join together as one super-group to save our planet and defeat those working against humanity and the earth itself?
Here’s your assignment: if you think this idea has value, then let the NRDC, Earth Justice, the Sierra Club, 350.org, etc. know (here’s a list of the top ten groups) that there is strength in numbers and that you’d like to see them find a way to join forces with each other during this, Earth’s most critical turning point. Write to them within 24 hours of reading this. You’ll feel better.