I don’t really FEEL the whole global warming thing on most days. As I am writing this, I had to gut check myself because I wanted to be totally honest in this post. I think people talk about climate change with so much BS wrapped around it, it turns everyone off. Give me a break. Unless you’re net-zero on your footprint, then you don’t care that much. NOT THAT MUCH. Not enough to take action. Not enough to sacrifice. In other words, just like the rest of us. Until Al Gore stops flying around in his private jet, I don’t want to hear about it.
And yes, I intellectually get it, and even make attempts to be green (until I researched this post, I felt rather smug about not owning a car), but I’m not swept away by emotion over it. It’s like a war on the other side of the globe, I feel bad, but it’s not like it’s my kin. My friend’s son broke his leg and it physically made me ache to imagine it. The Great Barrier Reef has been dying for years, and I can summon almost nothing. On most days I don’t even think about it.
But there was something about hearing a report last week that 93% of it has suffered from coral bleaching (aka it’s dying) that made me pause. I didn’t burst into tears, I just thought: wow I suck. I am that person, the one I imagined as a child sitting in 5th grade history class: how come no one stood up for Rosa Parks on that bus? You know? Did you do that as a kid? Did you imagine being in that time and place and think: if I was there, there’s no way I’d be a Nazi, I’d be hiding Anne Franks in my basement all day long! I’d be on the right side of history.
Guess what, I’m on the wrong side.
I mean we’re watching the GBR go down, and I can’t help but think if the Grand Canyon was being backfilled by some giant cosmic backhoe, and the only way to stop it was to give up our way of life, we’d probably do the same thing: nothing. It’s not like we’re TRYING REALLY HARD and nothing is working. We haven’t even decided what to do. Half of us don’t even think there’s a problem.
But forget all of that. It still comes down to me. The individual. Scientists know how much carbon dioxide the earth can absorb per year. It’s about 11 billion tons. Given there’s 6.5 billion people on the earth, that’s about 1.7 tons of CO2 per person, per year (or 460 kg of carbon). That’s our allowance as a human being on this planet. That’s our fair share.
That’s it. No matter what anyone else does, we all have the ability to just stop putting so much CO2 in the air. We could stop eating red meat. Bike to work. Not fly. Buy less. Eat local. It’s literally actions we are taking that are doing this. The complete lack of action – what I always feel like is happening in terms of climate change – would actually be great! If we did NOTHING, truly, then there would be no CO2. It’s only through our daily decisions and consuming habits that we’re in this crisis. And even if we were the only person in the whole world to cut back, at least we would be morally in the clear.
And yet, I’m not even trying. Not really.
That’s all. That’s what I felt when I read about the Great Barrier Reef. Just the realization that I was in the mob. Watching. Reading an article about it. Clicking share to FB. Nothing. (“But I really do care!” I might internally protest, but we all know the truth: actions speak louder than FB shares.)
So I looked up the average US consumption and it’s around 20.4 tons a year. To be responsible, that’s a 83% reduction. I mean it’s everything. It’s a lifestyle change. It’s flip your life upside down, stop doing everything you love and make even simple things a huge hassle. It’s ENORMOUS. We’re talking about every single aspect of your life, down to the food you eat.
Just for some perspective… the 13 inch Mac Book Air I’m typing this on? Well it uses 30% of my year’s total allowance every time I buy a replacement because 87% of its footprint comes from production and transportation. BOOM. Just having one laptop.
What else? A one-way flight wipes me out for an entire year. According to the EPA’s online calculator, a $40/ month electric bill – just $40 – would produce 3,422 lbs of CO2. Who is doing this? I didn’t agree to that! This is insane. That’s 1,552 kg or a little more than what the earth can absorb from me in one year. Just on electricity. That’s how little you get. Or I could blow my whole year on just beef. SERIOUSLY. You can potentially eat enough cheeseburgers and steaks to add up to 1.7 tons of CO2 emissions ALONE. This isn’t counting the footprint of non-beef foodstuffs or my clothing or driving a car around town or the many other things you buy each year.
No flights. No new computers except once every four years or more. Get solar panels and cut out your electric bill completely. No new purchases of anything that emits CO2 in the production. No beef. Eat local. Bike everywhere. Live totally differently.
What it takes to change is nothing short of drastic. Instead, we’re drinking the last bottles of champagne on the Titanic. Sorry, kids! Should we have been putting you in lifeboats? Dude, later, I promise.
I’m flying to Seattle in May. There goes my carbon for one year. I’m not becoming an activist. I’m not flipping my life upside down. This situation is so beyond screwed. I don’t even know how I could possibly cut my footprint down after just considering the carbon cost of my camera and computer gear alone, but now, at least I’m thinking about it. And I’m being real with myself. But maybe this feeling will fade too. The reef is far away. Then I think of wide swaths of the US being a dust bowl for the next 1,000 years. Or rising oceans wiping out low-laying cities I know and love. And those kids reading about it in the history books and wondering why we didn’t do anything? Because it’s complicated, kids. Life is complicated. Because when no one else does anything it makes it seem okay. Because it’s so big, I can’t even think about it. Because it’s hard. And maybe whatever I do won’t matter anyway, because humanity has decided to go down with the ship, and hey, if that’s the case, what’s another glass of bubbly? Sorry.