What I’m Going to Have to Do to Face Climate Change: First Steps

I’m still just beginning to get informed about climate change, especially about very recent information that makes it clear that things are much worse–and happening much more quickly–than we all thought. I’m not looking forward to finding out what changes I might have to make in my life. I already drive literally the most fuel-efficient car I can get my hands on, but I have a 35 minute commute each way every day. How crucial is it for me to cut down on car use? Do we have to somehow come up with the money to change our household heating system? Do we need to stop buying electronics or something? Where is the biggest impact going to be made?

You’re welcome to disagree, but the ease-into-it-by-starting-small approach doesn’t seem to me like it’s going to work. Based on what I’m reading, pre-industrial revolution carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were 275 parts per million (ppm). The highest safe level used to be thought to be about 550 ppm, but it turns out based on more recent findings that it’s more like 350 ppm. Our current carbon level? 392. We don’t need to slow down: we need to roll back, and hard.

So I need to get fully immersed in the kinds of solutions that can turn this problem around, and I don’t think a few minor adjustments to a typical American heavy-consumption lifestyle–even the eco-sensitive version of that lifestyle–are going to cut it.

But since I don’t yet know what will cut it, I have some work to do first. Here are my initial assignments for myself.

  1. Learn, and then learn some more. I’m only beginning to understand the scope of the problem, and once I get a handle on it, I need to understand better what the different pieces of the puzzle are and what I can do to change things. Doing this is painful. Reading Bill McKibben’s book Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet so far, for instance, has been like standing in a boxing ring and letting someone punch me over and over in the gut–but at least once the beating is over, I have most of the bad news and can try moving forward. If facing the bad news were comfortable, that would defeat the purpose: negative emotions (fear, anger, etc.) are the system we’ve naturally evolved to wake ourselves up when we need to take action: see “The Benefits of Feeling Bad.” The good news is that getting through that painful part to actually taking action feels good. There is a short-term payoff.
  2. Build up some serious motivation.It’s too easy to pretend that we can just continue with business as usual. After all, practically everyone else is doing that, and aren’t there plenty of smart, responsible people in the population? Why don’t we just wait to see what they do? Oh yeah … that’s usWe’re the ones who have to lead the way, along with the many others who are already doing it. We have to transform this movement, though, from a marginal effort by a small percentage of people to a massive, popularized common goal.
  3. Get family buy-in. I can’t take action in a vacuum: I share a household and need to work together with the rest of my family, which means offering them everything I’ve got on the subject and looking to them to voluntarily join in.
  4. Tackle the biggest-impact items first. I’ll need to make a list and find out what’s going to give me the biggest impact for my effort in my own life, then start with that thing. You could argue that getting other people involved (see the next point) makes the biggest impact, but to make a difference, we have to actually do something and then get other people involved in doing it to. Just getting a bunch of likes on Facebook isn’t going to solve anything.
  5. Connect, inform, and support. It is true, though, that if we’re already taking the necessary steps ourselves, the next important thing to do is to make the movement larger–much larger. I’m trying to do this even as I try to change my own life.

I know these items are general. You might reasonable ask, How do we do these things? What exactly will we be doing? That’s what I’m figuring out. As always, I’m grateful for your suggestions.

Photo by Robert Torzynski