Sustainably speaking, the future of our planet (and therefore, our future generations) looks grim. We are literally killing our planet and those who inhabit it, which unfortunately just so happens to be us. And while I believe that most people are decent human beings, we are self-serving creatures by nature. We don't tend to take action until something starts to negatively affect our own quality of life. The only inhabitable planet in the galaxy is dying because of us; because for the longest time, we have thought that doing nothing is a neutral stance when in actuality, doing nothing is letting our planet die.
While you may feel powerless to help, realizing your individual voice can make a tidal wave of impact is the first step towards turning this ship around. Industries, companies, and politicians will go where the money, the followers, and the headlines go, and we need to point those all in the direction of sustainability.
The existence of climate change is (legitimately) researched, evidence-based, unanimous among scientists, and very real. Here's a great article for the skeptics of climate change. Now, like typical humans, let's get back to how this affects us. According to an article by Scientific American examining the impact of global warming on human fatality rates, "Researchers believe that global warming is already responsible for some 150,000 deaths each year around the world, and fear that the number may well double by 2030 even if we start getting serious about emissions reductions today...Besides killing people, global warming also contributes to some five million human illnesses every year, the researchers found. Some of the ways global warming negatively affects human health—especially in developing nations—include: speeding the spread of infectious diseases such as malaria and dengue fever; creating conditions that lead to potentially fatal malnutrition and diarrhea; and increasing the frequency and severity of heat waves, floods and other weather-related disasters."
Not only is it hurting us, it's threatening to wipe out some of the most amazing plant and animal species on the planet; here's a list from the WWF of the animals most vulnerable to climate change. Climate change is hurting our oceans, killing our coral reefs, melting our polar ice caps, and causing to dangerous problems in our rainforests.
Climate change is no joke, and to take it lightly is to take the deaths of the people, plants, and animals that it is killing lightly.
read that again...and again...and again.
It bears repeating; doing nothing is no longer a neutral state. Doing nothing is adhering to the unethical treatment of people, animals, and the environment around us. It's giving in to the industries doing the most harm who think they have no-one to answer to. It's telling the lawmakers that the health and wellbeing of our planet and all who inhabit her should not be a priority. It's deciding that our immediate comfort and complacency is more important than future generations ability to swim in the ocean, have clean drinking water, or have the experience of seeing some of the most beautiful natural eco-systems, animals, and landmarks that we get to enjoy today.
To ensure a brighter future for us and future generations on this planet, we all need to take action, no matter how small. Often times with big problems, and call it what you want, this is a damn big problem, we think we need a big, life-altering solution. That's totally not the case. In fact, it's much more impactful to go at it through many small changes that build up over time. Here are three small but mighty ways to combat climate change and make sustainable living the norm rather than the exception.
1. Cut back on plastic
Plastic is one of the most dangerous materials on the planet. It's recyclability is very limited, it can take between 400 and 1000 years to degrade, it gives off greenhouse gas emissions for almost it's entire lifespan, and plastic is literally fueling the fossil fuels industry, enough to negate much of the progress we've made using electric cars, solar, and wind. Plastic is everywhere, from shopping bags (I can't believe we are still using these) to makeup containers to tampon applicators.
The first step towards making change is realization; really look at what you're using and think about not only what it's made of, but what happens to it after you're done using it. The statistics on plastic waste are mind-blowing and enough to make me want to boycott it altogether. While it's something I'm working towards, it's a long ways away. Small changes, remember?
I've found two ways to start cutting back on plastic; go room by room or by function (clothing, diapering, cleaning supplies, etc.). I've done a sort of hybrid, but my rule is that I need to have the mental space to do it before committing to it. For example, a while back, I decided to make my kitchen more eco-friendly, so in true Becky fashion, I went all-in. I completely overhauled our system; banned paper towels, made re-useable napkins from old baby blankets, donated all our Ziploc baggies to my kids classrooms, and tried to make my family track the garbage we threw out so we could know how much less garbage we were making. It was quite an adjustment. It took a toll on my entire family (we had two kids under two at the time).
So when I started eco-friendlying (it's a word, I just decided) my bathroom, I took my time. I waited until a product I had ran out, and in the meantime scoped out some of the zero-waste, clean beauty, eco-friendly options. This gave me some time to learn what the heck a paraben is, the difference between clean and cruelty-free beauty, and the impact each decision could have on the environment and my body. It let me figure out for myself what my priorities were; not Goop's or Kristen Bell's, just mine, when it comes to what I put on and in my body. It took years (yes, that's plural) for me to do it, but unlike with the kitchen, it was sans guilt, overwhelm, and stress.
I opted for the only sustainable shampoo bar I've ever used that actually works, a symbiotic (instead of a probiotic) that ships in biodegradable materials, carbon neutral bar soap vs body wash, and eco-friendly toilet paper.
It's important that we use the voice we're given to elect those that will take care of the Earth. It's not like we have a backup Earth, or we can hop on a flight to Mars, so this is it, folks. Some countries are leading charge. Iceland, for example, gets almost all of its energy from renewable sources and its capital, Reykjavik, is well on its way to be carbon neutral by 2040. France is the global food sustainability (tackling food waste, promoting healthy lifestyles and adopting eco-farming techniques) leader. Vancouver, Canada is one of the world's greenest cities; a leader in hydropower and on track to cut carbon emissions by 33% in the next 5 years.
The USA lags behind most other developed countries when it comes to sustainability, and we have a president who's understanding of the subject is contradictory at best. Women have suffered and even died to give us the right to vote, so use the voice you're given and elect people who stand for good, even when it's outside their political party's agenda, who align with your values, and who you believe will make, not destroy, policies that ensure our great-great-great grandkids will get to experience the same beautiful planet that we know today.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed that if we allow the temperature to rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius within this century disease, droughts, and other irreversible environmental consequences are likely to occur. At this point, as shown here, the chances that we succeed are slim, but that doesn't mean we should give up because what's worse than everything I mentioned above? Hitting 2.0, or 3.0, or even more and watching our world literally die around us.
The norm is not sustainability, it's ignorance. Doing nothing isn't remaining neutral, it's folding and giving the win to global warming. We are given a very important voice, one in the form of a ballot; one that should never be taken for granted.
3. Never Stop Asking Questions
Asking questions is one of the most effective ways to grow your awareness, combat fake news, and discover the truth behind things like the fossil fuels industry, global warming, and the abuse and marginalization of the people, animals, and plants that inhabit this planet. When you ask questions, you challenge the status quo, you dig deeper, and you learn, and learning is always a good thing.
The next time you're shopping and you see a cute sweater for $12, check the label. Polyester? Acrylic? Those will end up in a landfill for at least 400 years. When a politician makes a bold claim, ask them how they'll manage to do that without harm to the environment. If your friend has different values than you, ask them why they believe what they do. Don't settle for what has always been done, what's you've been raised to believe, or what you think you should think. Ask, ask, ask; it's the only way to learn. Questions lead to learning, which leads you knowledge, which always leads to the opportunity to make better life choices.
For some, asking questions comes natural, and for others it's like pulling teeth. To ask is to not only admit you don't know something, but to express a desire to learn it, and that can feel uncomfortably vulnerable. It's so important to question things though because change comes from challenging the norm, and sustainability-wise, we need change. So the next time you're talking to somebody, shopping, or making a decision, remember to ask questions; why do you feel that way, who made my clothes, what will happen when this is thrown out, what type of impact am I having on our world today?