Everyone hears it quite often, almost every day. Climate change is occurring, the ice caps are melting, the bees are dying, and we’re all screwed. It’s become almost routine, turning on the TV and there’s a new issue or natural disaster. I’ve grown up with this hysteria all my life. I think that’s how the problem of climate change became so mundane, so common that it doesn’t affect the public as deeply as it should. Unrelenting doomsday panic wears down the audience and makes them feel powerless, so people either ignore it, normalize it, or just say, “Well I can’t make a difference”. It’s a chaotic can of worms that needs to be addressed properly.
Climate change is a real issue that will affect every single person on this planet. It hurts me the most that it will disproportionately affect those who have not contributed to this problem. Small island nations are at risk of losing their ancestral homes due to rising sea levels, poor citizens are more likely to live in areas with greater risk of natural disasters, and indigenous people in northern areas are losing the snow and ice they hunt on for sustenance. Although everyone’s waste plays an part, the major component to climate change has been large corporations dumping toxic waste, destroying forests, factory farming livestock, and polluting the environment all in hopes of saving a few bucks. It’s worth it for them for that sweet, sweet increase in stock and share value. The profits come out on top, and at the short end of the stick are sustainability, human health, and the environment.
Even though corporations are an easy target, governments are just as responsible for a country’s environment health. Resource management plays a huge part on whether a country will be able to sustain itself or not. In a nutshell, properly managing trees can ensure healthy forests which will prevent soil erosion, ensure that land will have nutrients for crops, as well as provide fruits and homes to other species like birds. Rivers and lakes are a source of food (fish), access to potable water for the community, as well a spot for tourism and sports. Sometimes the promise of quickly getting rich by removing the trees for lumber, or using the lake as an area for dumping chemicals instead of paying huge fees to have it properly disposed outweigh the short-term benefits. Basically, the future generations will have to suffer with lack of topsoil, risk of mudslides during rainfall without tree supports in the soil, and the need to import fresh water because there is none. When the land is inedible and the water poison, it’ll be difficult to tell the kids that it was good for the economy.
One reason for humankind’s tendency for self-destruction and inability to act on this issue as a collective whole is shifting baselines. Daniel Pauly, oceanographer, gave a beautiful Ted Talk on this topic in regards to the ocean and shrinking fish sizes. Essentially, fish sizes are decreasing but people use their images from a child as a baseline (the normal), so sizes from before you were born are historic and irrelevant. Fish sizes from 100 years ago are different from 50 years ago and are different from now. They’re shrinking, but without practical experience, it doesn’t seem real. This can relate to glaciers, I saw one in Iceland that was further than my eyes could see; I stood at the end of the glacier, and someone told me that before it used to extend to the parking lot, a 45 minute walk behind me. Same applies to the glaciers in Alberta in Canada, Himalayas in India, Patagonia in Chile, and in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. These shifting baselines are lowering our standards for the normal, on what the environment should be. Aiming to maintain it as it is won’t be good enough because the environment we live in is already deteriorated.
Everyday citizens have a voice. Companies will follow the money; governments need to listen to the needs of its people. If consumers choose environmentally friendly products, the company will have to switch to transparent, ethical ways to produce their goods. If people protest, lobby, and vote, there will likely be a switch in government which can change policies to support environment issues. It is not as easy as 1-2-3, politicians can be bought, companies can ‘greenwash’ – pretending to be environmentally friendly in marketing, but really aren’t, and it can seem hopeless.
But it’s not. Don’t give up hope. Educate yourself on supply chain, ensure that the brands you like are ethical (no sweatshops) and environmentally safe (don’t use toxic chemicals). It’s better for the consumer and the world. And then, tell your friends. And they’ll tell their friends. Make a petition. Start a small grassroots organization in your community to clean up the neighbourhood, to attend town hall meetings together, to inform the public. You need to ask questions, “is this sustainable? Is this organic? Is this overly wasteful? Where did it come from?” Curiosity is important, it helps spark change.
In some places, installing solar panels have subsidies. In the long-term, it’ll be cheaper because the electricity bill will be smaller or non-existent. In the next car purchase, buy a hybrid, or a car with an eco-boost (electric isn’t a viable option in North America yet). If you’re going a short distance, bike or bus if possible. Read books on green organizations and how they got started for inspiration. Read about all the good facts about changes people have made. For instance, solar and wind farming have increased a lot more around the globe than predicted, the world is choosing renewable energy. There are a lot of positives hidden away in the negatives.
If you’re a climate change denier (though you can’t really deny science), and say “hey, why should we make all these changes if it isn’t real? Humans aren’t causing it, it’s a natural warming part of our Earth’s cycle!” then I still have some reasons to make lifestyle changes. It’s never a bad idea to strive for a better world with or without incentive.
- One, ethical brands don’t use sweatshop labour or child labour. They treat their employees with respect and give them rights. For the human sake of it, you’ll be helping employ people with living wages and ensuring that children can go to school instead of toiling away for 20 cents an hour in dangerous conditions.
- Two, some cosmetics have toxic chemicals and preservatives. Buying environmentally friendly brands use natural products that won’t damage your skin and will harmlessly biodegrade in water. It’s also shown that some chemicals used in L’Oréal can make skin drier. Khiel’s (owned by L’Oréal) has many toxic chemicals, some that are even banned in other countries like Japan.
- Three, saving money! Solar panels will cut costs in the long-term, like an investment, as will a hybrid car (fewer gas purchases). Clothes that aren’t mass produced in sweatshops are generally of better quality and will last longer (even with numerous washes), so you won’t need to buy clothes as often. Avoid clothes that require dry cleaning, as that is expensive and uses toxic chemicals (in some locations).
- Four, eating meat is healthy, but eating too much definitely isn’t. So to start, try to reduce your meat intake and opt for vegetables and beans instead. The next steps would be to avoid factory farmed livestock. Factory farmed cows are force-fed corn to make them more fat and sick, which will then continue on to the consumer. Chickens are cramped in cages stacked on top of each other where they defecate on to the ones below. And pigs are stuck in cages in which they have no room to even stretch or lie down. Beef which is factory farmed also can have a lot of antibiotics which can affect your health as well. Instead, choose meat products with grass-fed beef, chickens that are free range and pork that is antibiotic free. It will take time to research the labels, but it’s worth it for healthier products and the ease of mind knowing that you didn’t support animal cruelty. Maybe if you’re lucky enough to live near a farm that sells that meat or a butcher with sourced products, buy from there. Transparency in all brands is a good thing.
It’s easy to google and find a transparency report or articles (read a couple from different sources) explaining which brands are eco-friendly and which aren’t. Change and adaptation have made humans different from many other species and in the face of threat, we can surely change and adapt again. And a lot of major brands are trying and improving!
I think it’s important we leave the Earth a little better than we found it. That should be the goal of every being who calls this planet their home. There’s nothing else for there to strive for, a lot of money and material goods won’t save you from your mortality. So, let’s start with making our communities better, greener, sustainable, let’s start with our home.
Thanks for reading!